April 29, 2020

A casual conversation with students from Botho University portrayed a scare among youth with regards to COVID-19. In the eyes of these young people, they perceive the turmoil as a scary television series depicting end of days and naming it ‘EARTH’ – Episode 2020. They were referring to the apocalypse depicted in a movie called EARTH, where animal mothers struggle to raise their youth in an increasingly dangerous environment; Arctic melting down and the struggle for dryland animals to secure water sources. The basic truth to curbing the rapid spread of the virus has been pointed to hygienic practices from all angles. The spread of this knowledge is a masterwork in interjecting myths and stereotypes such as consuming alcohol, eating raw garlic, avoiding foreigners etc as preventive/curative measures.

According to World Health Organization, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory tract infection caused by a newly emergent coronavirus, which was first recognized in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The coronavirus belongs a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The disease is spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person.

While Lesotho still does not have a confirmed case yet,  the threat of the disease on lives and livelihoods looms  is evident  and gets worse closer every day. The challenge is adhering to the WHO guidelines and hygiene standards in joint community spaces to abate the rate of infection. In Lesotho, one of the toughest areas to keep germ-free is the bus-stop area due to population concentration, human and service exchange. It goes without saying that the primary preventive measure to interject transmission is hand hygiene, but the challenge of water and detergents accessibility remains. Who is responsible? This question is a key trigger for innovation and a call for strategic partnerships with all affected communities to reduce chances for contagion and contamination in these areas.

Can we bleach all surfaces?

How do we keep hand hygiene accustomed in our areas? How do we keep our working surfaces clean? These rhetoric questions should be a direct link to how we should keep our communities safe. One would think that the working surfaces should be cleaned every time it has been touched while others are asking how frequent is frequent based on the survival of the virus on different surfaces. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, depending on the environmental conditions. 

Maintaining WHO standards in highly populous areas such as the bus-stop may be challenge, due to several factors, including congestion, vicinity of waterpoints and general hygiene requirements. For street vendors, these also include balancing between display of merchandise and cleanliness to attract potential customers. These areas are however seen as potential health hazards and accelerators of the virus. Maseru city hosts almost ¼ of the total population of Lesotho, making it the most population dense and congested place in the whole country.

In view of the disease, it may take a while but it is necessary to retain cleanliness and confidence in the products and services for both customers and sellers, service providers and seekers alike, to restore livelihoods gained in these populated areas In this regard, UNDP Lesotho through the Accelerator Lab has embarked on an innovation aimed at building a culture of cleanliness and to encourage behaviour change among the street, users  dwellers and revellers, and in communities with limited water resources.

A ‘tippy-tap’ as a solution

The Accelerator Lab discovered the ‘tippy-tap’ in Pic 1 below, during a solutions safari in Mafeteng in October 2019. This simple hand hygiene mechanism was seen in different households dangling in front of external lavatories to encourage handwashing after the use of the facilities. It is anticipated that a simple modification and adoption of this for different communities in the urban and rural areas would save lives and livelihoods and promote the new socialisation required  by the COVID19 era.

This uses 5-litre containers and has a small hole on the cap which releases water when stepping on the loose string attached to the container. The Accelerator Lab has remodelled this, using the same technology, to address hygiene needs for densely populated and high traffic areas. The model uses a flat iron instead of a string to release water without a need to touch the tap, as shown in Pic 2 below.

As part of its response to the COVID-19, UNDP is partnering with Relationships Inspiring Social Enterprise (RISE), the Ministry of Health and Maseru City Council to deploy these improved dispensers to local communities, targeting bus-stop areas, market centres, border posts and other populous areas to promote the culture of hygiene in these areas. Local communities and authorities will be responsible for maintaining the service by refilling the water and detergents as needed. The dispenses will be produced in two sizes, a household single dispenser and larger containers for populated areas.