As Nigeria commences a phased return to work, the importance of the provision of safe water supply, sanitation and hygiene practices as the long-term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressed.

In an advocacy brief prepared by an urban planner, Mr Timeyin Uwejamomere, the nation was told to urgently address its failings in preventative medicine which, according to him, has been exposed by the rampaging virus.

In the brief tagged “Covid-19 response and the WASH sector – Taking a long-term perspective’, Uwejamomere said that States must review their water and sanitation delivery systems and realign these to present day realities, making them fit for purpose.

 He said that, rather than focusing on curative medicine, bidding time for vaccines to arrive and hoping to build more isolation tents, the authorities should retrace their steps and make right their actions.

His words: “Massively rolling out a credible water supply, sanitation and hygiene delivery programme will release half of hospital beds held up by patients suffering from diarrhea and other water borne diseases.

“It will massively reduce needless deaths from these diseases, release our women and nursing mothers to pursue productive activities, and contribute to national economic growth through job creation as well as ensure adolescent girls stay in school rather than drop out as a result of the poor state of WASH in schools for menstrual hygiene management.

“This is the long-term solution to environment determined viral load and pathogens that attack our families and public health.”

Uwejamomere, a development specialist and former Country Director of WaterAid Nigeria, insists that, in the long term, the COVID-19 pandemic can only be substantially managed by a focused attention to improved water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

He added that, together, these basic services provide the best remedy and protection against the virus, in combination with social distancing and the use of mask.

“Vaccine will help with stemming the virus but ultimately sanitation and hygiene will be the game changer, for developing countries. As we have been told, vaccines are necessary, however variants of the coronavirus will emerge in future and require further new vaccines.”

He cited the findings from a recent study in China that says that the coronavirus, after it has been killed and eliminated from the lungs or respiratory system, lives on in the human digestive system and can be present in the faecal waste of former patients for up to three weeks.

Uwejamomere, who is currently head of Mangrove & Partners Limited, an institutional strengthening consulting firm, lauded the nation’s humanitarian response to the pandemic, adding however “that we need both the humanitarian response and the more development-based response of improving the supply of safe water, safely managed sanitation and hygiene practices”.

“The humanitarian response should, as is already the case in some quarters, include such interventions as the provision of handwashing infrastructure and soaps; facilitation of handwashing practices in public places including offices, markets and hospitals;  social responsibility interventions from private sector partners for slums and rural areas; public education and palliatives targeted at those at the bottom of the economic pyramid; and a coordination platform involving all major stakeholders in the WASH Sector –  FMWR, CSOs, INGOs/Development Partners, private sector, individuals/consultants.”

He adds that, besides making the investments and building the infrastructure towards improving WASH services, it is equally important to build and strengthen systems while promoting behavioural change.

Uwejamomere noted: “To build and strengthen systems, we must go back to States and Local Governments. Many of our Governors have failed to take the bull by the horn, be responsible and do right with respect to providing basic water and sanitation infrastructure.

“The development and construction of sanitation and water infrastructure must become a cross-party programme. The challenge is bigger than one political tenure and must stretch across the States, just like COVID-19 has shown that infections know no boundary, WASH infrastructure must permeate the nooks and crannies of the country.”