Phase 2 of Amref-NBCC's work as part of HBCC II has focused on interpersonal communication and the creation of an enabling environment for WASH in East Africa. While the NBCC Secretariat has led the coordination of partners and provision of technical support for mass and digital media, Amref country teams have commanded interpersonal communication activities, in collaboration with local governments and ministries. Amref Health Africa's close coordination with public health officers and government ministries is key to enabling scale of impact and reaching the often-excluded populations.
In Q3 of 2022, Amref Tanzania carried out a two-day interpersonal communication (IPC) refresher session in Ilemela District on Covid-19 and other diseases such as Ebola, Cholera, and Diarrhoea. The interactive and engaging two-day session was delivered to hundreds of primary school children through their SWASH clubs.
According to Amref Tanzania's lead, Engineer James Mturi,
"The decision to target school children was very deliberate. Children are adaptive to change and are therefore good change agents for our communities. They are well positioned to spread awareness amongst their peers and family members. Unlike with adults, when working with children the messages needed for realising the IPC can be communicated in many creative ways. However, adults are mostly already set in their ways so changing their behaviours is more challenging, requiring different communication models".
The sessions delivered across the two days were focused on creating awareness among students around the measures that can be taken to help avoid preventative and communicable diseases. One of the measures that facilitators educated the students on was vaccine uptake to protect oneself from the risks of Covid-19. While day one focused on theory, day two was set aside for practice.
These sessions built upon and reinforced awareness that has been created through mass and digital media campaigns delivered during HBCC II. The award-winning Unilever PASSWORD campaign has been our core communication asset for teaching children and adults about the importance of regular handwashing with soap, wearing of face masks, social distancing and getting the Covid-19 vaccine.
In order to strengthen the delivery of the message around handwashing in particular, the Amref Tanzania team composed a song about the different steps of proper handwashing. The children then sang to this song as they washed their hands. This approach not only helps makes this important hygiene practice more memorable, but it also clearly highlights the steps that need to be followed. This method helps set children up for imparting this information to others, such as their peers and parents.
In addition to delivering the key messaging, Amref's IPC sessions aim to incorporate local solutions which can be utilised to protect people from public health concerns. In this vein, during this Ilemela refresher session, children were taught by staff how to make reusable face masks using locally available materials - all the steps from identifying the right materials to cutting, stitching, and cleaning their face masks.
This two-day IPC session proved to be highly successful. In the end, over 2,204 students participated in the session and 60 SWASH club members learned and practiced how to make reusable face masks. Furthermore, 250 children practiced proper handwashing in front of other students who subsequently learned all the required steps. This approach of children being the 'trainers' has been proven to be a highly successful model for sustainably disseminating information to wider communities.
Although the session reached a considerable number of individuals, and by extension households, barriers to the proper practice of hygiene within these communities persist. The inadequate and inequitable access to WASH facilities in schools, homes and communities hinders the proper practice of hygiene measures for all age groups. There remains much work to be done. Only with collaboration across all sectors will we be able to plug the gaps in WASH across East Africa.