COVID-19 in Africa: The nuances of social distancing and handwashing

28 March, 2021

Dear HIFA and HIFA-Zambia members,

Below are extracts from a new Commentary in the Medical Journal Of Zambia. Full text here:

COVID-19 in Africa: The nuances of social distancing and handwashing

Akwi W. Asombang et al.

I would like to invite discussion on the challenges of implementing public health measures such as social distancing and handwashing in rural areas and urban slums.


Societal anxiety has led to a flurry of urban–rural migration which increases the risk of community transmission. Public education and guidance on hand hygiene, cough etiquette, social distancing, and disease identification are

communicated by the media which people in most remote parts cannot access

Social distancing erodes the core cultural and psychosocial values of African communities [driving] non-compliance...

In African slums and densely populated communities... Locally made hand washing amenities have supported handwashing in public places but the numbers are inadequate and hand sanitizers are expensive to purchase... Hand washing is not observed as access to water and soap or hand sanitizer is a challenge

Frequent and proper hand hygiene techniques should be taught in the local languages and communicated at the grassroots level using audio-visual demonstration...

Using community elders, opinion and religious leaders to champion public health initiatives at the community level is a proven behavior-change technique...

In conclusion, the impact of COVID-19 on Africa will be potentially devastating if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens on the continent. As the search for vaccines and treatment for COVID-19 continues, culturally applicable strategies to

mitigate the spread of COVID-19 transmission and strengthen the existing public health infrastructure in Africa are urgently needed.


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Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,