By Sma Phethoka and Tsebo Mosoeunyane – Comms Volunteers

The World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 protocols awareness campaign took a turn when it hit the 22000 feet above sea level at Sani Pass on February 27th – March 1st 2021. This was part of the ongoing campaigns that took place from Wednesday 24th in the Qacha’s Nek, Mokhothong and Mafeteng districts.

The three campaigns were the last phase of the Lesotho Red Cross Society and UNICEF Lesotho Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Awareness Campaigns.

The RCCE project which started in August 2020 and ended in March 2021 aimed at strengthening community-level risk communication, coordination, structures and critical Water, sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) services and supplied to respond to and control COVID 19 infections in six districts of Leribe, Mafeteng, Maseru, Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing.

The first Phase of these campaigns took place in Leribe, Maseru and Quthing December last year and now three more districts have been added to the list.

The Mokhotlong campaign covered public places such as bus stops, neighbouring town villages, herd boys, church and traditional healers, while Qacha’s Nek reached about 10 villages through a convoy that circled around the district town and nearby communities including people grossing through the porous border.

Qacha’s Nek the Divisional Secretary, Thabo Motautona said that the idea of doing a mobile campaign stemmed from one of COVID-19 protocols which insists on consuming not more than an hour where at least fifty people are clustered in one place to avoid infections of the virus.

“When going around these communities we made a few stops where people seemed to have gathered without observing proper COVID-19 precautions like wearing masks and leaving enough space between themselves and reminded them about the risks” Motautona said.

“During these stops that we asked people questions related to Corona virus and awarded them with masks and lanyards that had key messages of the pandemic, “wear a mask,” “wash your hands regularly” Motautona added.

He said the team also visited an illegal border called “Paqama” which is found between the communities of Keiting and Makhalong. Upon arrival they witnessed two mini-busses offloading passengers on the main gravel road (South African side) that passes nearby, and they simply just crossed to Lesotho without anyone bordering them.

In an interview with one of the passengers, Malehlohonolo Habasise Shoto Ntaote, we learned that most of them cross through there because they do not possess the proper documentation, which includes COVID-19 certificates and passports.

“It is easy to cross through here because besides not having documents that are needed, it is just a short distance from where you just saw us get off the mini-bus to here, in Keiting village wherein cabs are already waiting to take us to town,” She added.

When asked about the COVID-19 protocols through their everyday trips to and from South Africa one other passenger, Lillo Mokhele, added that most people are well aware of them.

“We do not only take precautions because of the strict rules of South Africa but also because we want to keep ourselves safe and healthy, I even have my own sanitiser in my purse, the problem arises when there is not enough space between passengers.” She exclaimed.

This border has become very normal to its users and people living nearby so much that a series of the shack (mokh’ukh’u) providing services has emerged along it, and 4+1 taxis have built a platform for ranking.

One street vendor, Limkatso Lehana indicated that most people who cross through there are always seen wearing masks, unlike people who are always local like herd-boys and those on lookout for authorities.

Meanwhile in Mokhotlong, Divisional Secretary Ms Dimpho Ntai reported that it was invigorating to discover that herdboys and traditional healers were well informed about COVID19.

“They said they listen to the radio and get a lot of information there. They say since they are far and deep in the mountains, they have not seen what a person suffering from COVID19 looks like but whenever they have cold-like symptoms they use their usual traditional herbs.” Ntai reported.

On the other hand, traditional healers claim they have not been trained about COVID19 and therefore no PPEs were given to them even though Basotho continue to consult them when they are sick, Ntai continued.

These groups of people were sensetised about the COVID-19 Prevention measure from the 26th February at Sani Pass and in Mokhotlong taxi rank.

When addressing the public on behalf of the Mokhotlong District Administrator, Mr. Mathealira Khatleli indicated that the Society has done a lot for the district recently including the campaign.

“I make a plea to the public to always abide by the COVID 19 protective measures as a way to say thank you while also staying safe, otherwise we will regret later,” He added.

A minor from Lekhalong Mokhotlong, Keneuoe Sello (15) said that since the schools have been closed, she has avoided boredom by going to the taxi rank daily with the aim to help her mother who is a street vendor. She added that she has heard about a lot of people getting sick and she is now afraid to even go to the Health Centers.

“Even though I am afraid, I always come here to help with my mask on.” She added.

Meanwhile, Mokhotlong Division supplied 5-liter hand sanitizer to seven taxi associations and Khathang Tema Baitsukulin represented by Mr Mohlalefi Kokoropo.

When thanking the Division Mr. Kokoropo said the sanitizer will be distributed to taxi drivers using the bus stop. He however, said the challenge they are facing is lack of water in the tippy tanks.

“we have contacted the urban council regarding the filling of water in the tanks but no one seems to take responsibility for them. As a result, we are struggling with washing hands. The sanitizers will help a great deal in the absence of water”, he added.

He said the tippy tanks only worked for two weeks after they were installed. He urged the Urban Council to ensure that the tanks are working and have water.

The Red Cross Awareness Team also visited the S.t Michael Anglican Church. The Team observed that the church was respecting the Ministry of Health protocols. “There was social distancing and congregants were wearing masks”, Divisional Sectary for Mokhotlong Ms. Dimpho Ntai indicated.

Reverend Father (Rev. Fr) Motlatsi Taeli indicated that they face a challenge in which only fifty people are allowed in the church, and so most times people do not attend with the assumption that the church must be full already.

“Sometimes more than fifty people come to church, causing a challenge to them to dismiss them, so we let them join the church from outside through windows.” He added.

The Reverend also mentioned that there is a tippy tap inside the premises where everyone washes their hands before and after church as a way of fulfilling the “wash your hands regularly with running water and soap” precaution.

“we have also put aside some church practices which may spread the virus. These include taking holy communion amongst congregants.” Rev. Fr Taeli concluded.

Since the government ordered that there should be fifty people in the church, the S.t Michael Anglican church has two church services on a Sunday.

On behalf of congregants, Mrs. Mathabang Lepheana indicated that she is somebody who likes singing, but the use of face mask becomes a challenge to her and others.

“I cannot sing well while wearing a mask; I feel suffocated. We are not used to these practices, but since they are for our sakes, we will continue to do them”, Lepheana said.”

The Secretary-General of LRCS Mr. Kopano Masilo said the Society and UNICEF collaborated to have a RCCE and WASH project which started in June 2020 and ends in 2021 March.

He stated that under RCCE there are the following activities; Psycho-social support sessions and mental health activities done in health centres, hospitals and households while the WASH Project focused on constructing tippy taps and tanks in schools, public places and households. Hygiene kits will also be distributed to vulnerable schools he added.

“We have gone to six districts sensitizing different target groups from taxi drivers, passengers, congregants in churches, traditional healers, herd boys, installing tippy tanks and taps for both schools and households, and providing PPEs. the Secretary-General added.

He said approximately 200,000 people were reached through schools’ WASH project and awareness campaigns.

With over 61 000 tests conducted country-wide as of 1st march 2021, 10 495 people were found positive, 292 people have died, and 3768 have recovered. This is according to NACOSEC (National COVID19 Secretariat) Lesotho weekly report.

NACOSEC, stated that on 1st December 2020 the total positive cases recorded was 2137, this increased with a fluctuation of 10 – 60 case per day till the 18th December, making it a total of 2365. The department started recording about 90- 230 new positive cases per day from the 19th, closing the year with of a total of 3094 COVID19 positive people.

It was then that the 2nd wave hit hard with a rapid increase of 200-900 recorded positive cases per day and by 18th February they had a record of 10455 positive cases. Since then, the rate at which positive cases increase has decreased to at least 5 people per day.

In his speech on the 28th of February, Lesotho Prime Minister Dr. Moeketsi Majoro expressed that the country has come a long way from whence the infection rate and deaths was at 47 percent which led to a hard lockdown in January 2021.

“This initiative has helped us a lot because, within just seven weeks, the infection rate has decreased to 7 percent, and only a few infected people are still in hospitals. Dr Majoro added.

These campaigns were supported by the COVID-19 Survivor Mr. Tsutsulupa Mpela, Celebrities such as Sir Matee, Makhubelu, Stlofa and Sentso, and funded by UNICEF Lesotho.