On the streets of Bulawayo’s high-density suburbs, teams using mobile trucks are educating new mothers to check the development of their children using mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) tapes.
MUAC tapes are predominately used to measure the upper arm circumference of children, but also that of pregnant women, helping identify malnutrition.
The COVID-19 lockdown has left Zimbabwe’s health services in both urban and rural areas under severe strain.
Infants, children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers could not access health services as many clinics have not being able to function properly.
As a result, many new mothers have not been able to go for postnatal visits, a critical phase in their lives and their new-born babies. A phase when adequate nutrition is crucial for the mother as well as the feeding baby.
Hospitals and clinics have since gradually returned to more normal services.
Amid all these hindrances to critical health care key messaging outreach through community engagement is important for raising awareness of the continuous need to visit health care facilities. through door-to-door visits, GOAL Zimbabwe in partnership with Promobile Africa and supported by UNICEF is reaching out to communities through a COVID-19 awareness campaign.
Team members who have been empowered with the titles of brand ambassadors are educating communities on COVID-19 preventative measures, infant health, Gender Based Violence (GBV), child abuse, water and sanitation issues among others.
This integrated approach, to health, WASH, child and women’s rights and social issues has been well received by communities as they are receive critical information on their doorsteps.
Vusa Ndlovu, a Promobile Brand Ambassador said during the various visits, they are carrying out surveys on awareness around the COVID-19 toll free numbers, GBV and SGBV, child abuse and malnutrition.
“The MUAC tapes are distributed to ensure continuity of child health services during the lockdown. They were introduced to limit movement from homes to clinics during the lockdown,” Vusa said.
Parents with children below five years can monitor their child’s growth themselves with the MUAC tapes.
He added: “If for example they measure the child’s arm today and it is on 3cm, and it goes to 4cm the next time a parent measures, it means the child is growing so there is no need for the clinic unless if a child is ill. This helped with social distancing and continuity of health services.”
Additionally, another team focusing on child nutrition follows up on residents once Vusa’s team leaves.
“This has been a success. In the community, we are coming across some people who were not aware of SGBV but knew a number of abused children and women. Some were not aware of COVID-19 toll free numbers, the symptoms of or what to do in the event they have COVID-19,” he noted.
Such information, Vusa pointed out, is usually found in newspapers, televisions and radios.
“Right now there is no electricity in Nketa and a few people afford to buy newspapers which are expensive. They would rather buy a loaf of bread. Even when people listen to radio adverts, they cannot ask questions if they do not understand a message.”
Vusa pointed out that it was effective to interface with residents and address their misconceptions and misinformation.
“We also refer them to the COVID-19 toll free number ‘2019’, Childline toll free number ‘116’ and the police victim friendly unit.”
Tich Muzambindo driver of the specialised mobile truck observed that senior residents are taking the COVID-19 call seriously.
“The seniors seem to have more information on COVID-19. They wear their masks and stay indoors more often. They understand that they are at highest risk.”
Furthermore, in high density suburbs they have been to, many younger people feel that COVID-19 is over, making the outreach programme a necessity.
“Just because businesses and schools have reopened, there has been a lot of complacency. We have a challenge with the kids who are not taking COVID-19 seriously and not wearing masks. We have emphasised to parents to prevent their kids from playing outside without wearing masks,” he revealed.
Messages on COVID-19 preventative measures at schools have been shared extensively with parents to ensure safe learning for children.
“We also tell parents to find small containers for sanitiser a child can use, after using the toilet on the way to school, and also practice social distancing.”
There has been a huge change since the specialised trucks began moving around residential areas.
“Encouragingly, kids are slowly beginning to take COVID-19 seriously,” he said.
Despite water challenges that sometimes stalk Bulawayo residents messaging around COVID-19 prevention using handwashing with clean running water and soap have been echoed repeatedly. The GOAL team has also been distributing soap to residents.
“We asked some children to show us how they wash hands when they have little water. Using a cup, they poured water on each other’s hands and washed them for 20 seconds. This shows they are getting our message,” he explained.
Partners working together to help prevent COVID-19
With support from UNICEF, and through financial support from the Health Development Fund (UK Aid, EU, SIDA-Sweden, Irish Aid and GAVI), the Hygiene and Behaviour Coalition (UK Aid and Unilever), Government of Germany and USAID, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the specialised mobile trucks have proved to be an effective way of reaching communities safely, particularly during the lockdown, when other community engagement activities are not always possible.
The GOAL Zimbabwe integrated visits are evident that when communities have information on their fingertips, they can cope, respond and adapt to new challenges like the current COVID-19 pandemic. – Unicef Zimbabwe