COVID-19: Mainstream sanitation and hygiene as reality stares Nigeria in the face

Date: 16th April 2020

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By Olajide Adelana

ABUJA, Nigeria – While as many as 343 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are reported as of 15 April, Nigeria is stepping up its advocacy campaign, advising people to practice good hand hygiene – by washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers – among other prevention measures based on the World Health Organization’s guidelines, determined to curb the spread of the virus.

Public health professionals who spoke to WSSCC expressed confidence in Nigeria’s ability to deal with the pandemic but also raised alarm on how the country will cope with limited or no hygiene facilities.

According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme report, in 2017, only 42 percent of the entire population has access to basic hygiene. The remaining 58 percent either lack handwashing facilities with water or soap, or don’t have provision for either. These statistics are even more worrying in light of Nigeria’s growing population, which is currently estimated at 200 million people.

At a recent sensitization workshop in Nigeria’s state capital, Abuja, WSSCC’s National Coordinator for Nigeria, Elizabeth Jeiyol, outlined disturbing WASH statistics that have concerning implications during this time.

“According to 2018 WASH-NORM statistics, only 29 percent of Nigerians have access to improved sanitation, 61 percent have access to improved water, 9 percent of markets and motor parks have basic water and sanitation services, and 6 percent of health facilities have basic water and sanitation services. It is appalling that 47 million people still practice open defecation while only 11 percent of the population has access to complete basic water, sanitation and hygiene services,” said Ms Jeiyol.

WSSCC partners took to the streets of Makurdi, in the heart of Benué (state), to spread awareness through music, information and action. ©WSSCC/Boluwatito Awe

She says that the Coronavirus pandemic has reawakened the Nigerian people to the importance of hand hygiene, and it has also brought to the fore key issues within the WASH sector that need to be addressed by the government – such as mainstreaming sanitation and hygiene in its epidemic preparedness strategy.

The Nigerian government has announced a raft of measures to curb the virus, including the closure of Nigeria’s land borders to human traffic, advising against mass congregation of any kind as well non-essential travel and a ban on international travel. However, Ms Jeiyol says policymakers also need to pay attention to longer-term solutions and respond by enacting adequate laws that would streamline sanitation and hygiene at all administrative levels in the country.

A good place to start is ending open defecation, according to WASH Ambassador in Nigeria, Ebele Okeke.

“We cannot be practicing open defecation and pretend we can curtail disease outbreaks of any kind – not only COVID-19. This is a medical fact. Open defecation is a danger to our well-being.”

“For now, the vital importance of hygiene and adequate WASH provision stares Nigeria in the face as the country battles the pandemic,” she said.

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