GSF, UN-Habitat reaches out to differently abled in fighting against COVID-19

Ram Kumar Sah, 27, of Iswarpur Municipality, Ward No. 3 in Bhaktipur, Sarlahi, is physically disabled with foot injuries. As he lives 365 kilometres east of capital Kathmandu, Sah has never got the opportunity to learn the nitty-gritty of hygiene and sanitation.

He never realised that hand washing was important to maintain personal hygiene. “Whenever there was availability of water, I used to wash it but I never thought it was mandatory,” he said. Things, however, changed when Manoj Kumar Sah, Municipal Coordinator of Bagmati Welfare Society Nepal (BWSN), an implementing partner of the Global Sanitation Fund (GSF)-UN-Habitat for total sanitation campaign, visited Sah’s house in a door to door campaign and taught him the basics of hand washing in March.

“I have learnt that the hand washing with soap is important to avoid infection of COVID-19. The total sanitation facilitator taught me about cleaning hands with soap,” said Sah. Now, he frequently washes his hands before every meal, after using toilet and in every available situation. “Earlier, I did not have the habit of washing hand regularly and hardly practiced it,” he further said. “These days, I make sure that all members of my family wash their hands regularly and I guess washing hand will become our habits now onwards.”

The BWSN has reached out to five more differently-able persons in the same community and have plans to focus on these groups for hand washing campaign.

“We have realised that in most cases, disable people along with pregnant women, nursing mothers and elderly people get ignored during pandemic. So, we make sure that they are well-informed about the benefits of washing hand and to prevent themselves from COVID-19,” said Dipendra Thakur, District Coordinator of the GSF, UN-Habitat. In Sarlahi, training young children to wash their hands with soap has been effective in reaching out to the elderly people in the family.

The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council has supported the GSF, UN-Habitat and the BWSN to launch the total sanitation campaign in 16 wards of Hariaun Municipality, Iswarpur Municipality and Baswariya Rural Municipality of Sarlahi district from February 2020.

The GSF, UN-Habitat has also been reaching out to the households having members with disability to encourage them to construct ramps from locally-available materials for the toilets. “Few of them have expressed happiness about the suggestions for the temporary ramp construction and we are hopeful that they will construct it soon,” said Sah.

During the lockdown period from March 22 until now, the GSF, UN-Habitat has reached out to 11,381 people of 16 wards of Sarlahi district for hand washing campaign with key messages on prevention of COVID-19 with support from the local representatives. The door to door campaign for washing hand was launched during the second phase in early March. The staffs of implementing partners and volunteers have started follow-up to the individual households through phones. A total of 187 hand washing platforms have been constructed during the lock down period.

The GSF, UN-Habitat has also deployed volunteers for distance messaging through mobiles and telephones to create mass awareness on steps of hand washing, hygiene and sanitation management.

The message of hand washing practice by following the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines as well as the message on COVID-19 was incorporated in the campaign. “As the WHO has recommended that hand hygiene is critical to prevent human to human transmission of COVID-19, we have strictly adopted it while implementing our programmes,” said Thakur.

The hand washing campaign continued in full speed despite the lockdown, as the local government got actively involved and supported the campaign. “The local government’s involvement made it easier to reach out to the locals even during the lockdown,” said Thakur. “We reached out to the locals through the local FM radios and public announcements.”

The hand washing campaign initiated by the GSF, UN-Habitat was formally launched by the Chief Administrative Officer of Hariaun Municipality in Sarlahi district.

“The support we have received in preventing COVID-19 through hand washing campaign under total sanitation from GSF, UN-Habitat and BSWN is commendable during this crisis because the timely intervention has saved from huge loss,” said Ganesh Prasad Prasai, Mayor of Hariaun Municipality. “It has helped us to reach out to the most vulnerable group through it awareness campaign on hand washing and sanitation through mobile communication and we have seen huge improvement in the handwashing behavior and sanitation among the locals.”

Apart from the mass awareness programmes, the GSF, UN-Habitat has also reached out to 1,423 households in Sarlahi in April through distance messaging under the Community Close Watch system. Out of 1,423 households, 287 households were provided series of distance messaging on hand washing and toilet use. The GSF, UN-Habitat launched the Community Close Watch system as an innovative avenue for distance communication as a tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from April.

“While we all are exploring ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we have made maximum utilization of this lockdown period by intensifying our programmes through distance communication regarding personal and household level sanitation,” said Rajesh Manandher, Water and Sanitation officer at the GSF, UN-Habitat. “The newly constructed hand washing platforms and drying racks are the results of this initiative.”

Thakur informed that after the intensified awareness campaign on hand washing, there is an increase in hand washing practices and has also helped in the awareness about toilet cleanliness, benefits of handwashing and drying racks platforms in the community.

Kumar Bhandari, Program Coordinator of the BWSN, said that the fear of COVID-19 played a positive role in creating awareness on the importance of hand washing.

The implementing partner also supported the local government for the data collection regarding COVID-19 and hygiene situation, distribution of soap, mask and relief to the daily wage workers and poor households who are badly affected by the lockdown.