How COVID-19 Improved Hygiene Practice in Taraba and Adamawa
Femi Bolaji FASLN
I have witnessed my neighbor, (name withheld) overtime washing the anus of her children after defecating openly on a small field in the compound we both live with just water and not bothered about using soap and water to properly clean her hands afterward. Despite having a toilet in her self-contained apartment, she prefers her children using the small field, which sometimes serves as mini farmland for the entire compound during planting season as a toilet to pass feces.
Her younger children are not the only one with this habit. Another neighbor with two children below six-year-old sometimes defecates openly on the same fertile field that produces maize and potatoes for our consumption twice a year. Me being a chronic bachelor feels irritated by this behavior which seems to be normal for my fellow neighbors in Jalingo, capital of Taraba state. This is a compound where we eat openly sometimes during the peak of summer when everywhere is hot. But lately, the tide has changed with the advent of COVID-19 which earlier this year crippled economic activities across the globe and also exposed the rot in our health system. My neighbors now use a potty for their children and regularly wash their hands with soap and water. When asked what prompted the behavioral change, she told this reporter that various sensitization messages both in the media and where she worships did the magic.
Speaking on why she preferred her children to defecate openly, she blamed the act on water scarcity. “The problem we face with water in this area, coupled with the fact that children tend to empty their bowel more often than we adults are the reasons why they use that field. But this has stopped. I now use a potty for my children and dispose of the waste in the latrine to prevent any airborne disease. Using soap and water to wash my hands have also become a norm unlike before.” Just like my neighbor, regular handwashing with soap and water has become a daily ritual for residents of Taraba and Adamawa.
A survey conducted by Arewa Voice across selected local government areas with logistic funding from African Science Literacy Network, ASLN, in both states shows that people are more conscious about hand hygiene in 2020. The selected local government areas in Taraba and Adamawa include Girei, Michika, Numan, Song, Jalingo, Takum, and Ardokola.
While questionnaires were administered by respondents in Adamawa, interviews were conducted in Taraba state for the target population, who were mostly women. Ogbemudia Favour, who resides in Jalingo, capital of Taraba state, said “before covid19 I only wash my hands when I want to cook and when I want to eat especially traditional food like eba, semo, and pounded yam.
But since the CoronaVirus started spreading in Nigeria, I have sustained proper hand wash practice.” Christiana Babayo, who resides around ATC in ArdoKola LGA, disclosed that “regular hand washing has become a habit. I do it almost unconsciously now. Before COVID-19, hand washing is something I do when necessary, but now it is a normal practice. All thanks to COVID-19.”
For Faith Enoch, “handwashing for me has never been consistent, I worry less about it, but for COVID-19, hand washing is one of the cheapest ways of controlling its spread, which I have become a master of.”
In Adamawa, all the respondents agreed to have imbibed the culture of regular hand washing since their awareness of how COVID-19 can be spread. 60% of the respondents said they use soap and water, while 40% prefer hand sanitizers. On the importance of hand hygiene, 60% of the respondents heard about it during the spread of COVID-19, while 40% agreed to have the knowledge of hand hygiene long before the Advent of COVID-19.
60% said they got more knowledge about proper hand hygiene from religious houses while 30% agreed to have been sensitized by the media. The remaining 10% got their sensitization from friends and family. Also, 80% of the respondents agreed that proper handwashing helps limit the spread of infection in the community. 10% voted that it helps prevent children from communicable diseases while another 10% stood aloof.
On some of their challenges on proper handwashing over time, 50% of the respondents complained of non-availability of soap most times, while 30% pegged their neglect of the habit to inadequate water. The remaining 20% choose other reasons.
A public health commentator and a lecturer of Microbiology at Modibbo Adama University, Adebare Adeleke, in a chat with Arewa voice posited that effective handwashing is very important to curtail the spread of infections in the society. According to him, “apart from the current COVID-19 pandemic, germs are everywhere and we may not know when we get exposed to those that can cause certain diseases.
These germs are ordinarily invisible to the naked eyes and can be bacteria, fungi, viruses or protozoans that can cause diseases. “However, it is very important that public awareness about the existence of these germs be sustained even after COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past. Many infections especially among children and infants can be prevented if parents and guards have adequate knowledge of hand hygiene.
“For instance, diarrhoea is one of the very common illnesses which are brought about by lack of proper hygiene and these are preventable if adequate sanitary practices are carried out.
“Government and communities should also work together to intensify effort to make portable water available not just for drinking but also for sanitary measures.”