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As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, WSSCC’s national coordination mechanism in Benin has been working with local radio stations for several months to widely promote the importance of handwashing as one of the most effective ways of controlling the spread of the virus.
‘Handwashing with soap and water can be a question of life and death’
Reaching rural areas a long way from the capital Cotonou, partners have also highlighted the need to think about vulnerable people and existing inequalities, particularly in communities and among people without access to drinking water and sanitation.
These messages were translated into the local language of Fon to reach people who do not speak French and target hardest-hit communities to encourage the local population to comply with protective measures as well maintain and build on progress made in adopting good hygiene and sanitation practices.
The messages were broadcast on Benin’s four main radio stations: Radio Carrefour (91.7 FM), Radio Kpassè (93.8 FM), Radio CAPP FM (99.6 FM) and Radio Océan FM (88.6 FM) with emphasis on the reality of the disease and everyone’s personal responsibility for complying with the protective measures.
Consolidating the achievements of establishing good hygiene practices
The radio messages were followed by a series of awareness-raising radio programmes focusing on the links between the COVID-19 pandemic and issues related to water, sanitation and hygiene, including the importance of increased investments in these areas. The programmes included some high-profile guests, including WSSCC’s National Coordinator for Benin, Mr Félix Adegnika, and the Head of the Programme for Improving Access to Sanitation and Hygienic Practices in Rural Areas (PAPHyR), Ms Yadjidé Adissoda, along with other key figures.
Their discussion emphasised the fact that the response to the COVID-19 crisis is fundamentally about hygiene, and that whether you wash your hands with soap and water can be a question of life and death.
The guests on the radio programmes also confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a health crisis that is deepening inequalities in access to water and sanitation in Africa, and particularly in Benin.
Ms Adissoda also took the opportunity to point out that PAPHyR has proven it is possible to persuade communities to move away from harmful practices such as open defecation and to adopt and accept good hygiene practices.
As well as hearing from guests, listeners were given the opportunity to call in to the programmes to share their thoughts. Comments from listeners included condemnation of the decline in compliance with protective measures since the lockdown had been eased.
They also highlighted the difficulties in accessing water for specific populations, particularly in terms of connections to the network run by the national water company (SONEB), the quality of the water provided, and the lack of knowledge of good hygiene practices among some citizens.
To tackle these challenges, listeners called upon the authorities to provide support for people who face difficulties in gaining access to water and to continue efforts to educate them about all the benefits of adopting good hygiene practices. Overall, listeners agreed that it was importnat to fight for hygiene and sanitation for all, in order to effectively control the pandemic and safeguard people’s health.
Highlighting the fact that handwashing has become a universal practice overnight, following COVID-19, the discussion reflected on the fact that the pandemic provides a crucial opportunity to make further progress on improving hygiene practices and addressing challenges in sanitation and hygiene.
For example, every year, Benin faces diseases such as cholera and other diarrhoea-related conditions, which can be tackled by improved sanitation and hygiene. In particular, Mr Adegnika pointed out that, according to WHO, interventions to improve hygiene – especially educating people about hygiene and the simple fact of washing their hands – could reduce the number of cases linked to diarrhoeal diseases.
In order to maintain the momentum and cement Benin’s commitment to improved sanitation and hygiene, Adegnika called for prioritization of the sector to increase funding, which remains limited.