“Never has the role of media been more relevant to people, their communities and to us all as civil society in ensuring duty-bearers are fulfilling their important roles in ensuring urgent and reliable access to life-saving services such as water supply, sanitation and hygiene as critical first lines of defense”
– Musa Ansumana Soko, WASH-Net, Sierra Leone
Improving hygiene practices is often considered an afterthought as behaviour change is seen as a complex and difficult undertaking. However, COVID-19 has presented a unique opportunity for the advocates in the sector to raise the profile of water and sanitation, hygiene (WASH). With the support of SWA secretariat, civil society partners and WASH Journalists were engaged in three countries to produce radio and television shows to amplify behaviour change messaging and to generate wider public debate on the urgent needs in terms of effective WASH services delivery.
In Sierra Leone, Civil Society WASH Network (WASH-Net) collaborated with WASH Media Network and produced three radio talk shows and two television debates to highlight current sector challenges like coordination, financing, inequality in access to services and ways to increase the political to drive change in COVID-19 response and recovery. The guests for these media interventions included the representatives from the Sierra Leone Ministry of Water Resources, Sierra Leone Water Company (SALWACO), Guma Valley Water Company (Utility), National Water Resources Management Agency (NWRMA), WASH Media Network and the telecommunications service provider.
During the debates, the panellists discussed and analysed Government’s commitment to address the key challenges in the sector through a series of institutional and regulatory reforms such as the review of Guma Valley and Sierra Leone Water Company Acts and the National Water Resources Management Agency Act. For emergency response, the Government has activated the 'District Coordination Forums' to address key challenges during the pandemic. Other key reforms include the establishment of the Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission and the National Water Resources Management Agency. As 21% of schools in Sierra Leone are without access to WASH services, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) has developed a ‘School Subsidy Guideline’ with stronger provisions on the need for WASH spending at the school facility level. Meanwhile, the WASH CSO network discussed the urgent need for increased and sustained financing which will ultimately save the government from any future health emergencies.
In Tanzania, SWA partners– Media for Community Empowerment (MACS) and Population and Development Society (PDS) produced radio messages (spots) and call-in talk shows to deepen people’s understanding on the importance of handwashing with soap and water as a critical first step to staying safe. In the Kigoma and Morogoro towns in Tanzania, PDS along with health experts addressed key questions from the callers, such as “if I am alone in the bush am I required to use sanitizers and face mask”, “Why are children less affected by COVID-19 compared to elders”, “Is COVID-19 a punishment from GOD?” PDS invited representatives from Tanzania League of the Blind who highlighted the urgent needs of the people with disabilities in accessing WASH services amidst COVID-19. The radio shows became hugely popular in Kigoma and Mogororo municipalities and PDS was invited to do similar shows free of cost on other radio channels. PDS also produced radio spots (messages) that ran for a month on the local radio channels. The radio spots that they produced in Swahili, can be accessed here.
In April, MACS collected voices from the field in the Tanga Region of Tanzania to highlight the challenges being faced by the communities in terms of accessing basic WASH services. These issues/questions were then compiled and addressed through a call-in radio show with the help of a health expert. MACS also interviewed Hon. Ummy Mwalimu, Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children for the radio show. During the radio show, people said,
“Today you made me very happy, personally I did not know the steps of hand-washing, the doctor at the studio spoke very well about hand-washing. It is very important at this time that we receive such information, which will help fight the corona”
– a caller from Muheza village, Tanga Region, Tanzania
“You have done something so great by establishing a radio program at such an important time that we need to know how to prevent ourselves from coronavirus.”
– a caller from Mikanjuni village, Tanga Region, Tanzania
“I am happy to hear that people can recover from COVID-19 as the health minister said, I ask my fellow citizens not to panic, and fear is too bad.”
– a caller from Mkinga village, Tanga Region, Tanzania
Click on the video below to listen to the radio show (in Swahili).
In Niger, Journalists' Network for Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (REJEA) worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Water and Sanitation and other civil society partners for the development of messages on preventive measures taken by the government. REJEA produced radio spots in three languages (French, Hausa and Zarma) and secured 48 prime spots in 'Voix du Sahel'. Radio spots can be accessed, here.