Scaling up innovation in sanitation to mitigate risks from pandemics like COVID-19

AIILSG stand with the nation and urban local bodies in particular in the time of coronavirus pandemic. Our institute is committed to extending all kind of support to our municipalities in this fight. Sanitation has been the prime focus for our institute since its inception. The pandemic like COVID 19 has compelled us to rethink our community sanitation standards, redesign our curriculum for sanitation workers and overhaul our existing response system to handle such situation in a densely populated country like India; especially in low-income habitats of our cities where enforcement of social distancing is challenging in the wake of such health emergency 

Ranjit S Chavan
President, AIILSG

National governments world over have not seen such a serious health emergency. COVID-19 has made its way to almost every corner and crevice of the planet. Health services are strained; the economy is plummeting. Many urban local bodies have also been caught unaware how to deal with such a situation that is unprecedented and they are waiting for the instructions from the state and central governments and the World Health Organization (WHO) to control the situation on ground zero.

As the cities across the world are locked down to slow the spread of the virus, our health and sanitation workers, law enforcement agencies have thrown themselves into the fray as first respondents. Since our focus has been improving the capacity of sanitation workforce with present-day requirements, the institute will intensify its efforts. 

Sanitizing sanitation infra

Our sanitation workforce needs to be capacitated to deal with similar situations. The infrastructure and gadgets with the sanitation department need to be updated and added to ensure that they can execute their duties and responsibilities with utmost care. This is a time of crisis and our focus is to mitigate the risks with adequate measures but it has also impelled us to rethink about the need of stringent implementation of sanitation guidelines and manuals, and also update them from time to time. The pandemic has also exposed the issues in our weak health infrastructure including the scarcity of ventilators, lack of Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) for health workers, masks, etc. This pandemic or health disaster has made us think about to shift our focus on right health priorities and strengthen it. The institute will also ponder over how can we help in improve the capacity and infrastructure of health services in such times of disasters.    

The focus on improving our sanitation facilities and infrastructure will go a long way as these facilities and work culture will have longer-term benefits for municipal ecosystem once the current pandemic is over. I am sure that this shall pass soon. Sanitation workforce can lay a significant role in preventing the spread of infection through various measures. However, it is the responsibility of local governments to understand their risks too and issue proper guidelines for their own safety, if not done already. There is need for safeguarding them too because of their exposure to daily waste coming from people’s homes. Their safety is essential to ensure curbing the spread of the virus.

According to the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, Infection prevention and control (IPC) practices in communities and health facilities should be reviewed and enhanced to prepare for treatment of patients with COVID‑19, and prevent transmission to staff, all patients/visitors and in the community. This task comes under the purview of the Health Department of urban local bodies and we need to reassess the preparedness of the department, their requirements and their capacity building for the same. Waste management guidelines need to be implemented adequately for the safety of sanitation workers who are assisting health workers and medical professional in executing their duties well. The management of hospital waste in such times also becomes essential to prevent further spread. These workers deserve accolades and appreciation as they have thrown themselves into the fray as warriors and safeguarding general public from any potential harm.

Initiatives of ULBs to fight coronavirus

The role of urban local bodies also becomes imperative in ensuring proper communication with local communities and guaranteeing equitable delivery of basic services to all the citizens. Like, Thane Municipal Corporation has formed a team of doctors to do a door-to-door survey to check if any person shows any symptoms of coronavirus and geo-tag them for ease of identification. A host of corporations are conducting sanitization and disinfection exercises in key public places. Such activities have not been part of ULBs’ operations in the past. The crisis can enable corporations to do a need-based assessment of their capacity-skill and resources.

Our corporations can also learn from the experiments of various other municipal corporations in the world. In the United States of America, the National League of Cities and Bloomberg Philanthropies have teamed up to collect and share actions taken by local leaders in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Local leaders and city networking organizations have realized this that the scale of this global crisis is unprecedented, and so is the scope of the local government response. The information available on this tracker is assisting mayors, city leaders, and other local decision-makers to lead their communities through this crisis.

South Korea has set a good example by controlling the spread of disease. According to the information received from one of our partner organizations that work with ULBs in South Korea, the city of Seoul has been taking exhaustive containment measures in the fight against COVID-19. Once a confirmed case is reported, the possible contaminated areas are being disinfected, the patient’s movement is publicly disclosed to minimize further contact, and those who came into close contact with the carrier are being tested and advised to self-quarantine. Moreover, the Seoul Metropolitan Government continues to closely monitor developments related to the virus in the city under the Virus Prevention Task Force operating around the clock. The SMG has also set up several drive-through test facilities and recently launched a ‘social distancing’ campaign to encourage citizens to avoid physical contact with others. Their initiative has borne results and ensured the prevention of mass spread.

The role of local communities and local governments become most important in responding to such a crisis. Many corporations in India and abroad have devised news ways to work hand-in-hand with communities to build trust, spread authentic information on the disease, precautions and support resilience and mental health.

This is indeed a tough time for all of us but I am sure that our unified efforts will help us come out of this crisis. We may be physically apart but we are together in this fight and we shall win sooner than later. The emphasis on social distancing is for delaying the communication of the virus: from patient to patient, the curve of new cases will certainly flatten and it will not strain our health system that is making all possible efforts to serve who needs care. I urge everyone to adhere to the governments’ guidelines and extend all possible support to the needy in this difficult time. 

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