COVID-19: Maintaining hygiene preparedness in Nepal’s easternmost district

Date: 29th May 2020

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By Renu Kshetry

GAURIJANG, Nepal – A team of government officials, medical officers and sanitation professionals is intensifying their effort to provide the necessary support to poor and marginalized communities in the easternmost district of Nepal as many of the community members are confined and their movement is restricted due to the fight against coronavirus.

Mr Ram Chandra Mishra is in charge of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) at Gaurijang Rural Municipality (RM) in the district of Jhapa, which is located 460 kilometers east of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu.

As the WASH focal point, he explains that the majority of households in the rural municipality belongs to poor and marginalized indigenous groups from Rajbanshi and Dalit communities, and most of them live under the poverty line.

“Because of the confinement and restriction of movement to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they can’t go out to make their living. And they need extra support,” Mr Mishra says.

Locals of Bhawanipur village of ward no 4 of Gaurigunj Rural Municipality were taught hand washing techniques by GSF support Birat Community Learning Center staffs. Photo Credit: Dilip Tajpuria.

To reach out to poor and marginalized communities, officials at Gaurijang Rural Municipality have formed several response teams to ensure evidence-based planning, monitor individual cases at the health desk centers and send people to quarantine. One of the teams is comprised of an 11-member COVID-19 prevention and control committee, led by the rural municipality’s chairperson, doctors, health professionals, municipality officials and representatives of the total sanitation campaign facilitating agency.

A rapid response team has also been formed, including the security personnel, and each ward has established a COVID-19 control and relief distribution committee that ensures correct information is provided to each household and is strictly followed.

“We check people’s temperature with an infrared thermometer and then put them in isolation for 14 days,” Mr Mishra explains.

According to Mr Mishra, 99 community members, who have recently returned from India, have self-quarantined for 14 days and 88 have already gone home, with 11 still in quarantine in the health camp. Except for two who had a fever for a few days, no one has any symptoms of COVID-19. The two patients with fever are also recovering in the isolation ward and their fever had gone down.

“We had a challenge of making people understand about the importance of hygiene and sanitation, as they are poor and illiterate,” said Mr Mishra. “But, organizations like Birat Community Learning Centres (a local NGO supported by WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund) helped to instill the basic concept of handwashing within the communities. This has proved to be the biggest tool in the fight against COVID-19.”

Gaurijang Rural Municipality has been working towards ensuring total sanitation since 2018 in collaboration with WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund (GSF) programme and its executing agency UN-Habitat.

The GSF/UN-Habitat programme has supported four wards of the rural municipality and has developed seven model communities for total sanitation, covering 340 households in communities of the rural municipality. Each house has now constructed handwashing stations with soap. They also have dustbins and toilets and are working to upgrade toilets from single pit to double pits with septic tanks.

Mr Binod Prasad Sharma, Morang and Jhapa District Coordinator of the GSF programme, explains that out of a total of six wards, they have selected 340 households from the most marginalized and impoverished communities to become a model community. A model community is created by achieving all indicators of total sanitation, from positive hygiene and sanitation behavior to household sanitation and institutional sanitation.

Despite the difficulty caused by the lockdown, GSF/UN-Habitat has continued their work with 1,400 households across targeted wards of Jhapa.

“We have formed clusters with five volunteers representing different communities who support information collection about the situation of every member of the households via telephone and in places they could easily collect information from their neighborhood whilst maintaining physical distance,” said Mr Sharma.

“Collected information is shared with the Palika Level COVID-19 Prevention and Control Committee for preventive measures. We are also disseminating information on total sanitation and monitoring the hygiene and sanitation situation of each household, including providing technical inputs through telephone for maintaining sanitation,” he said.

Advocacy for the open defecation free campaign, hygiene and sanitation and other strategic support to the rural municipality and six wards have also continued.

Members of Ward no 4’s Ward Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Cooridnation Committee of Gauriganj Municipality after endorsement of Total Sanitation Ward Planning Guideline Photo Credit: Dilip Tajpuria.

Long before the news of COVID-19, the rural municipality had installed 11 permanent ceramic water basins and water tanks in six ward offices, one in the rural municipality’s office and in four health posts for hand washing.

With an increase in the cases of COVID-19 worldwide, the rural municipality also installed water tanks with taps and soaps in 200 public places, such as market areas, junctions, ward offices, bank premises and health posts. They also installed eight 2,500-litre plastic water tanks and additional 1,000-litre water tanks in various major intersections in partnerships with various local businesses, banks and cooperatives.

Each ward of Gauriganj Rural Municipality, with the technical support from GSF-UN Habitat, has also prepared a three-year total sanitation strategic plan and has allocated budget for the total sanitation campaign for this year:

“We are planning to execute the sanitation strategic plan strictly. Public awareness on preventive measures for COVID-19, through public service announcements delivered from seven mobile vans, has also been ongoing to reinforce communities’ hygiene and sanitation practice,” said Mr Mishra.

“We cannot even imagine the situation if we had to start from scratch regarding handwashing to the local communities at this critical period. At least we had been prepared,” he said.

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