A water point attendant in Zambia’s capital Lusaka has a new role beyond filling up containers for residents at the community tap. John Nyambe spreads the word about the novel coronavirus – its dangers, and what residents can do to protect themselves.
The role comes with a new title too – “coronavirus prevention ambassador.” Nyambe, 71, bears the title with pride. His message was especially vital in a city with a history of inadequate sanitation and disease outbreaks.
As soon as the first cases of Covid-19 were identified in Lusaka in March 2020, the African Development Bank adjusted one of its programs to address the outbreak. The aim was to engage communities benefiting from the Lusaka Sanitation Program to keep them up to date with information on the pandemic, dispel misinformation and to distribute hygiene products.
Nyambe, who was appointed by the Lusaka Water Supply and Sanitation Company, has witnessed a difference in behavior since the sanitation program accommodated its new mission.
“We have seen change in the community and people are now following the guidelines that have been set because they now understand that the disease is deadly and they need to take care of themselves,” said Nyambe, who also works as a security guard for a local firm.
Since the Covid-19 hygiene project got under way, 400 hand sanitizer stations have been installed in public spaces such as markets, health centers, water points, and places of worship. And over 600 water tap attendants like Nyambe have become coronavirus prevention ambassadors.
The key message was around the importance of staying safe by practicing social distancing and washing hands thoroughly. This helped change the perceptions of people, many of whom were skeptical about the pandemic.
“This project is good for, not only the water tap attendants, but for the community as well. The tap attendants were able to sensitize the community and did so by demonstrating, using the materials that were given by the Bank,” said Josephine Moono Chihongo, the Lusaka Water and Sanitation Company community development officer for the area known as Peri-Urban West.
“Today, when you go to the community water collection points, no one draws water without a mask and without sanitizing their hands. This shows us that there is behavioral change among the communities,” Chihongo added.
The measures were rolled out in addition to ongoing activities that are part of the Lusaka Sanitation Program, a $243 million project jointly funded by the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, the German Development Bank and the World Bank.
The African Development Bank is providing $50 million to build healthier and happier families by elevating residents’ quality of sanitation, especially the poor living in peri-urban communities around Lusaka.
At the time that the Lusaka Sanitation Program was launched in 2015, around 70% of the city, roughly 2.2 million people, lived in high-density, unplanned peri-urban neighborhoods. Five years later, the sanitation program provided a foundation to fight the pandemic.
By late March 2021, Zambia had registered more than 87,000 cases of Covid-19 and the death toll from the disease was more than 1,000. Bank support enabled the production and translation of messages and jingles, the distribution of bottles of hand sanitizer, and face masks.
“We now understand that coronavirus is real and we were empowered by the Lusaka Sanitation Program with information on how to protect ourselves,” said Easter Kumbana, a resident of Kanyama.
“I had no money to buy facemasks and hand sanitizers because the little money I had, I needed to feed my children, so I was extremely happy to be assisted with the sanitizers and face masks.”