This blog is the first part of a 3 blog series that will be looking at the AccLab Zambia’s activities from exploring the issue, finding solutions, building partnerships and experimenting to influence decisions on the standard operating procedures for markets in Zambia during the surge of COVID 19 cases in Zambia that began in March 2020.
The cases of COVID-19 have been spreading and increasing in Zambia. The recent CDC ranking of the country as one of the most vulnerable to be affected by COVID-19 is beginning to become a reality. As at 24th August 2020, 11,148 cumulative cases had been recorded with a fatality rate of 2.5% and a recovery rate of 91.6%. Active cases were 660 recorded across the country with the capital city of Lusaka taking the lead as an epicenter (MoH, daily updates 24/08/2020). The virus continues to escalate despite preventive measures put in place to reduce the spread; which measures include practicing good hygiene (that is hand hygiene and cough etiquette); physical distancing of self from contact with others, contact with contaminated surfaces and avoiding confined public spaces. As well as testing for the virus at scale, contact tracing and immediate quarantine of infected or suspected cases has been enforced.
The measures were put in place when the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) instituted Statutory Instrument (SI) No. 22 of 2020 as per Presidential address of 25 March 2020. The interventions have seen the closure of schools for non-examination classes, restricting non-essential travels for public workers with a work-from-home policy for nonessential staff operationalized; no public gatherings, closure of some ports of entry into the country, closure of bars and taverns to avoid a complete lockdown, ensure that essential parts of the economy remain fully functional. With most of the citizens in the informal sector, the move has allowed people to continue with their daily work and avoided the total shutdown of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), especially daily income businesses such as markets and local transport. It is a move that should be sustained at all costs considering that 88.7% of employed Zambians work informally.
Lusaka being the capital city, has the biggest markets housing up to 4,000 traders (LCC, 2020), which are also serviced by bus stations with destination points reaching all the residential areas in the district, surrounding farms and beyond. In view of this, critical preventive measures are a challenge to adhere due to the high volumes of consumers that target marketplaces for affordable foods and other products. Thus, markets are not only a source of livelihoods for some people living in the city but is also a source for social conveniences for many. While the closure of markets was a recommended public health measure to limit the spread of the contagion of COVID-19 in some African countries, for example in Rwanda and Kenya in Mombasa specifically, the implications of the measure in Zambia would have negative food security and economic impact particularly for SMEs and the self-employed in the informal economy that make up the bulk of the country’s economy. Ultimately, this would also adversely impact the local farmers who depend on town markets and consumers predisposing people to malnutrition and food-insecurity, during a time in which access to healthy, affordable food is greatly needed. Women who are largely represented in the trade of fruits and vegetables would have been further marginalized and affected by the proposed closure of markets. This would have resulted in their economic dis-empowerment and rise in gender gaps in employment.
Markets have long served to increase food access in low-income areas and support small farmers and local businesses, as well as bolster a strong, locally empowering economy. Like supermarkets, farmers and food markets are deemed “essential businesses,” but concrete guidance on their safe operation during the COVID-19 crisis have not yet been operationalized or standardized within and across cities in the country. Rather than closing the markets in Zambia, adaptation of the markets to public health contexts will yield food security, economic stability, and women’s empowerment.
In order to ensure business continuity for SMEs based in public areas such as markets, the Accelerator Lab sought to identify issues and possible solutions to improve adhering to public health regulations within markets. By leveraging market traders’ committees and local leadership in the three target markets, the Accelerator lab in partnership with the Lusaka City Council and the Ministry of Health sought for how we could model a Covid Compliant Market by rethinking and adapting existing market models.
Issues we found:
The Solutions: Safe Markets, Safe Communities
The need to protect a large population whose income would be negatively impacted should a complete lockdown be instituted was apparent during the solution mapping process. This calls for sensitizing communities at household level on the importance of adhering to public health regulations to reduce the spread of COVID 19. This poses another potential problem on how to engage households without increasing the footprint within communities. Following previous evidence on how best to sensitize communities picking on lessons learnt from UNDP Ebola outbreak response in West Africa we found that peer to peer learning works best in a community setting. In the space of the markets, following an initiative successfully piloted by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in some parts of Lusaka, peer to peer learning would require for existing market structures such as the market ccommittee members to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to operate as a cadre of Market Safety Officers to continually sensitize and enforce adherence to public health regulations against COVID 19 to market traders and customers within the markets. The sensitization efforts will also be complemented by UN-supported Community Youth Volunteers already working within communities to raise awareness on government safety guidelines against the virus.
Water is Life
The need to adhere to hand washing requirement faced a critical challenge in the markets toured. Not only was there need to increase access of multiple hand-washing points but for one community called Lilanda the solution required solving a structural water issue the market was experiencing. The team explored existing semi-automated hand wash points like pedal tanks that were locally produced in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. These were already posing the challenge of sustainability in the face of the high passage of people entering the markets. Fortunately, the Lab was able to identify a local innovator that had designed a fully automated, portable handwashing station with body temperature sensors. Hopes are to collaborate with the innovator to produce a prototype fitted to the needs of each specific market locality.
Protect and Secure
The challenge posed by the need to comply to donning protective wear raised the question on what type of Protective Personal Equipments (PPEs) would be required to reduce transmissions in the market spaces, based on recommendations from the study conducted in April 2020 by AccLab Zambia in collaboration with University of Zambia, Ministry of Health and WHO on “Assessing the efficacy of homemade masks towards prevention of the spread of COVID-19” of selected cloth materials, the UNDP will support the production of masks for distribution to the at-risk populations working in the markets. For this reason, community sensitizations will include messaging on proper production, use and handling of reusable double layered cotton masks based on guidelines from the study.
Maintain the Distance
Market committees have committed to developing practical measures to support physical distancing within the market places while at the same time allowing for businesses to continue by exploring the possibilities of using alternative free spaces with the guidance of the City Planning Department to decongest current markets. This may also include developing guidelines and monitoring system to allow a certain number of marketeers and customers at a time that will meet the physical distancing measurement requirement. To support attempts in this direction, the Lab is exploring a partnership with a local errand service start-up business to pilot a delivery App that will connect consumers to market traders without the need to visit the markets.
As the AccLab team prepares to implement the Covid Compliant Market model in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Lusaka City Council, the UNDP Gender team and Women for Change , a lot of excitement has been built up surrounding the possibility such a model creates – from ensuring safe spaces are created for traders most of whom are female to the possibility of government developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that will guide the operations of markets in the long term. The learning will reveal what possibility exists in keeping our markets safe from spread of not only COVID-19 but other contagious diseases.
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