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The COVID-19 pandemic spared Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa. Thanks to its stunning beaches and historic cities, the two main islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Unguja, have attracted travelers from all over the world for centuries.
Today, those streets and beaches are almost deserted, since the citizens of this closed community of almost 1.3 million people between the two islands protect themselves from the coronavirus.
On April 9, Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu announced the first cases of COVID-19 community transmission in Zanzibar. As of April 24, 98 cases were registered on the islands, according to an official press release.
Zanzibar thrives thanks to the community, and in the spirit of umoja (“Unity” in Swahili), the presence of community health initiatives on the islands was strengthened to raise awareness and educate islanders about this highly contagious disease.
Innovation for 'no touch' handwashing
In mid-March, even before the first cases were registered in Zanzibar, many hotels on the islands that received thousands of travelers from the hot zones of COVID-19, such as Italy and Spain, decided to close their doors and implement preventive measures , such as physical distance and frequent hand washing, recommended by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control.
On March 18, hoteliers and the Zanzibar Local Tourism Development Group (ZTLD) met on the east coast of Zanzibar to educate and inform community members about the virus, and organized a plan to distribute hand sanitizer and water for home storage, plus educational posters.
The Mustapha's Place hostel, located in Bwejuu, decided to keep an open mind despite having the doors closed: Together with the ZTLD, they designed and built several washbasin stations or sinks that are used without hands and activated by the feet, and the they distributed at strategic points along the east coast, a region made up of small fishing populations.
Mustapha 's place is temporary closed, but our mind is open and creative! Desing and buiding “foot operated hands-free” hands washing stations. Together with our communities we fight the spread of corona virus, supporting each other, learning from one another. Big up # zanzibartourism & localdevelopment #staysafe #washstations #zanzibar #mustaphasplace #creativeminds #coronavirusinafrica #coronavirus
Geplaatst door Mustapha's Place op Woensdag 8 april 2020
In mid-April, ZTLD members delivered several “contactless” lavatories in mosques, police stations, local clinics and hospitals, and in various towns in the region.
A fragile healthcare system and a strong community
The Wajamama Health Center, located in Stone Town, Zanzibar, praised the ZTLD's “contactless” sinks initiative, which “reduces the need to open and close faucets or even touch the soap dispenser. We are amazed at the ingenuity of each system and grateful to see these efforts“They wrote on their Facebook page.
Wajamama, which means watoto, jamii, mama (“Children, society, mother”), was founded by Nafisa Jiddawi in response to the need for a safe space for women to receive quality medical care with sanitary and wellness practices.
Previously, Jiddawi and his team were in the front row fighting COVID-19 on the islands, mobilizing to educate and inform islanders about the coronavirus when Zanzibar reported its first imported cases of COVID-19, in late March. 2020. By that time, Jiddawi and his team had installed one hundred hand washing stations throughout Unguja.
They also brought the latest information on handwashing, facemasking, and social distancing to local leaders, and urged citizens to remain calm and only disseminate information based on scientific data.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli was criticized for encouraging citizens to continue to congregate at places of worship despite strong scientific advice not to do so. Magufuli closed schools and universities for 30 days, but was reluctant to impose an official quarantine, even after the first case, recorded on March 16. According to the BBC, as of April 23, 284 people from mainland Tanzania tested positive for the coronavirus.
On April 10, Wajamama warned through his Facebook account: “It is NOT a time for conspiracy theories or meetings.” The following week, they wrote: “With our health system and economy already fragile, stopping the transmission of COVID-19 in our community is the only hope.”
A few days earlier, Wajamama made a generous donation of personal protection supplies (PPE) to the Ministry of Health for Zanzibar health workers, with the support of the Stonetown Rotary Club and sponsors from the United States.
They continued to work with local designers and citizens to distribute reusable masks in the community, including Recycle At Ozti, Kumi Zanzibar, Jenga Zanzibar, Zanzibar Apparels and Doreen Mashika, who joined the # mask4all movement ('masks for all').
Within ten days, Wajamama managed to raise nearly $ 8,500 of the $ 10,000 goal to support the COVID-19 response initiative.
Mental health and COVID-19
Most of Zanzibar's population is below the international poverty line and subsists on less than a dollar a day, said Pamela Allard, program advisor for the Health Improvement Project Zanzibar (HIPZ).
The COVID-19 pandemic added even more pressure to local Zanzibar communities, adding to existing concerns about chronic poverty, weak health infrastructure, and dependence on a completely stopped tourism industry.
For more than a decade, HIPZ worked closely with the Zanzibar Ministry of Health to support Makunduchi and Kivunge hospitals in rural Zanzibar, where health care is painfully poor. HIPZ also noted a strong need to expand the mental health service to COVID-19 and took advantage of the radio program on mental health to provide crucial information about the coronavirus to local communities.
This is one of the only community initiatives on the islands that has recognized the damage to mental health that this virus can bring to societies.
HIPZ Mental Health Coordinator Haji Fatawi assumed the role of radio personality, and on April 23, he visited the remote island of Tumabatu to conduct radio health talks designed to sensitize communities to all aspects of the virus and its impact on daily life.
When COVID-19 cases began to appear on the islands on March 21, HIPZ immediately began sponsoring training workshops at local hospitals to demystify the virus and allay fears among health workers, Allard explained in a email to Global Voices.
Many staff believed many patients may be carriers of COVID-19, and therefore the health care could be improved due to a lot of fear-based assumptions within the local staff.
Many of the staff believed that many patients could be carriers of COVID-19 and therefore would have to improve healthcare services due to fear-based assumptions of local workers.
Allard went on to explain that HIPZ has had to reevaluate its programs with a fine focus dedicated to keeping frontline healthcare staff safe and content:
With an already fragile health system, we have had to reassess everything and try to prepare for COVID-19, focusing on keeping our staff as safe as possible to perform the critical work that will most likely be required of them. We have refocused many aspects of our budget to support the staff, with PPE and soap, and equipment and innovative systems of patient flow at this time. We have been fundraising like mad, and are preparing for the potential weeks to come, knowing that the curve in Zanzibar may not be as flattened as it is in other countries due to the living conditions and socio-economic challenges that face most of the Zanzibaris .
With an already fragile healthcare system, we had to reevaluate everything and try to prepare for COVID-19, focused on keeping our staff as safe as possible to carry out the essential work that will be required of them. We have rethought many aspects of our budget to support staff, with PPE and soap, and with innovative equipment and systems for the current flow of patients. We were raising funds like crazy and preparing for the coming weeks, knowing that the curve is not going to flatten as much in Zanzibar as in other countries due to the living conditions and socioeconomic problems that most of its inhabitants suffer.
As politician Seif Sharifin wrote in African Arguments, April proved to be a watershed month for Zanzibar and Tanzania on COVID-19.
The government did not issue an official confinement order or announce major debt relief measures or incentive programs. However, the Zanzibar Ministry of Health has worked tirelessly – along with these local community initiatives – to keep the country informed and safe.
In Zanzibar, where most honor the holy month of Ramadan that began on April 24, May will also be defined by that spirit of solidarity to keep people connected through caring communities.