No one prepared us for this pandemic. With its far-reaching impacts on public health and socio-economic human development, COVID-19 has disrupted the familiar. While there is no telling how our futures could look like, there are vulnerable groups in need of immediate assistance. In response to this, SNV handed over Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) sets to its local government partners; for subsequent distribution to 3,000 sanitation workers across six cities in Bangladesh. Alongside this, the organisation reinforced behavioural change messages on appropriate handwashing with soap.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) reported Bangladesh’s first three known COVID-19 cases on 7 March. On 26 March, offices and public transport were shuttered, with the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stating that the coming days will prove to be a testing time for humanity. With so many unknowns surrounding the coronavirus, to date, there is no greater solution to take than prevention. Government, non-government organisations, private sector and civil society are working at different scales to raise awareness on known COVID-19 prevention measures. These include undertaking hygienic practices, the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by front liners, and maintaining appropriate physical distance.
Although preventative measures are being taken, the continuous surge in the number of infections is reaching alarming levels. As of 11 May, 14,500 confirmed cases have been registered nationwide.
Adapting behavioural (hygiene) change strategies to our new realities
SNV in Bangladesh has been continuing its work responsibly, in confinement, since 19 March. In support of the Government of Bangladesh and the medical professionals who are at the fore front of coronavirus response, our immediate focus has been to help reduce the spread of the virus and ‘flatten the curve.’
Within our urban sanitation programme, we are contributing to this in two ways.
- Safeguarding the health and safety of sanitation workers whose work-related risks are further heightened by the possibility of exposure to the virus.
- Reproducing proper hand hygiene messages for students whose schools have been shuttered, and for the general population whose adaptation strategies mean washing hands with soap frequently, following the World Health Organisation’s methodical (minimum of) 20-second technique.
PPE distribution for sanitation workers
Societies’ proper functioning rest on the backs of many essential workers – mostly low-paid workers with no option but to go to work, no matter the risks they have to take. In addition to medical professionals, sanitation workers comprise this group of essential workers. To realise cleaner and healthier cities, among our COVID-19 responses include the provision of PPE sets to the city authorities of Khulna, Jhenaidah, Kushtia, Jashore, Benapole and Gazipur for their subsequent distribution to sanitation workers. Through SNV’s local government partners, up to 3,000 solid waste collectors, public space sweepers, drain cleaners and pit emptiers, which included reusable masks, gloves, goggles, vest and aprons, and gumboots and helmets (for emptiers) benefitted from these PPEs.
During the PPE handover ceremony, Md Talukder Abdul Khaleque, Mayor of Khulna City Corporation, said, ‘PPE distribution to sanitation workers will minimise the risk of them being exposed to COVID-19… Through my department I will ensure the equal distribution and recording of PPE recipients to avoid duplication and misuse of resources during this critical time. My heartfelt gratitude to SNV for their continuous support to ensure safe sanitation management in the city even during the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, I encourage other organisations to come forward so that we can overcome this pandemic together.’
‘My protection is in my hands’ campaign
Aligning with the Government of Bangladesh’s ‘My protection is in my hands’ campaign, SNV escalated its behavioural (hygiene) change communications (BCC) strategy around handwashing with soap practice. Several BCC videos and posters were adapted to specifically benefit children and the general population. To take hygiene reinforcement messages to scale, SNV in Bangladesh broadcasted/published its messages in national and local TV, local government websites and social media channels.
With the intense support of national/local governments and its partners, SNV in Bangladesh coronavirus-related initiatives continue to be rolled out in the service of vulnerable groups - specifically for workers whose services and products continue to be delivered during emergency situations. Many more BCC materials are in development to separate myths from facts. Messages on symptoms to watch out for and preventative measures to take are in progress. These messages will be distributed in factories to raise hygiene (and preventative) awareness of another group of essential workers – garments workers.
Written by: Tahmina Haque, Tanvir Chowdhury and Marc Perez Casas
Photos: SNV in Bangladesh
 SNV's urban sanitation work in Bangladesh is primarily being undertaken as part of the Government of the Netherlands-funded WASH SDG programme and the Bill & Melinda Gates-funded CWISE programme. Visit links for more information.
 SNV's COVID-19-related BCC materials in Bangladesh is part of the official COVID-19 information site run by the Government of Bangladesh with its ICT and Telecommunication divisions, UNDP and a2i.