COVID-19: A handwashing station in rural Nigeria offers hope for local communities

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By Olajide Adelana

ABUJA, Nigeria - For its part in the global battle with COVID-19, Nigeria has implemented lockdowns, suspended non-essential services and imposed travel restrictions, among other measures to contain the spread of the disease, very much along the lines of what most other countries have done.

Amid these fairly disruptive interventions stands the essential act of handwashing which remains at the center of Nigeria’s efforts to prevent community spread of the disease that experts warn could be particularly devastating in rural communities.

In the community of Tse Iorkyoor in Nigeria’s Benue State, Mr Sesugh Iorkyoor and his family have been leading the way in the adoption of good hand hygiene practices.

Following a visit to his community by a programme supported by WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund, known as RUSHPIN (Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria), Mr Iorkyoor became convinced of the benefits of ending open defecation and began constructing latrines. Now he is taking it a step further with the addition of a handwashing station at his newly-built mud toilet facility.

“After the training and enlightenment that other community members and I received from RUSHPIN, I built a latrine for my household in March. Because of the coronavirus problem in Nigeria, I was motivated to include a handwashing station, too,” he said.

“Since the handwashing station was constructed, we have been adhering to hand hygiene measures, as advised by government and RUSHPIN staff, and this includes washing our hands with soap and water regularly, especially after using the toilet,” Mr Iorkyoor said.

Like most members of the community, Iorkyoor’s family benefited from the RUSHPIN intervention in February which involved a process called community-led total sanitation (CLTS) to trigger the community towards collective action to improve their sanitation situation by ending open defecation. Quite astonishingly, Mr Iorkyoor’s initiatives have spurred other members of the community to construct individual handwashing stations as well.

“We know we don’t have hand gloves and face masks. All we can do is to wash our hands and listen to the experts,” said Mr Iorkyoor.

“So when I built my handwashing station, other community members liked it and started constructing theirs. We are using them just as we were taught by RUSHPIN staff,” he said, adding that he manually fetches water to fill the tank connected to the handwashing station.

Although handwashing stations are considered common, Iorkyoor’s handwashing station, like many others in the community, offers hope in preventing COVID-19 from spreading in rural and hard to reach communities in Nigeria where access to hygiene facilities is largely poor or non-existent.

“We were not thinking of COVID-19 when we started the programme, but now our efforts are paying off with Mr Iorkyoor motivating every household in his community to construct and start using handwashing stations,” said Dorcas Kwamande, a staff member of United Purpose, which is the executing agency of the RUSHPIN Programme supporting the local government area.

“United Purpose is also making plans to liaise with local primary health care centres to strengthen our efforts and also ensure sustainability,” Mrs Kwamand said.

According to the 2018 WASH Norm Survey findings by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Water Resources, only 11 percent of the entire population has access to basic WASH services, 16 percent of schools have basic water and sanitation services, and 47 million people still practice open defecation. These statistics are particularly worrying in light of Nigeria’s growing population, which is currently estimated at 200,000 million people and projected to double within the next 30 years.