ON March 16, 2020, Minister of Health, Social Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Ummy Mwalimu confirmed the presence of the first patient in the country infected with coronavirus (Covid-19).
In the wake of the crisis declared by the United Nations to be a global pandemic, the government deserves credit for taking various measures to contain the spread of this dangerous disease.
The measures include closing schools and colleges, providing education and encouraging communities to protect themselves against the disease by avoiding overcrowding, washing hands on a regular basis, and in turn, report people who appear to have symptoms of the disease.
Accurate information about this Covid-19 disease has also been defused to local level and people have started taking measures. The Ministry of Health has also built the capacity of community-based educators in the community to facilitate access to information and education for various groups in their areas.
The Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) Executive Director, Lilian Liundi says when such disasters occur usually women and children are the main victims. She adds that the Covid-19 tragedy has posed a huge challenge to women who are key people in families.
According to statistics from the International Labor Organisation (ILO) in 2006, more than 80 per cent of women are involved in informal jobs such as in markets where there are large gatherings that put them at higher risk of contracting the disease.
About 24.5 per cent of households in the country are run by women, thus giving them the responsibility of providing care and service to their particular families. Women and girls are said to belong to a low education group in society, and according to Unesco's 2019 report, the level of adult education is 77.89 per cent, where males are 83.2 per cent and the rest are women.
These figures are clear evidence that women have been left behind in various issues. "This group of women lacks timely access to accurate information, such as newspapers, radios, TVs and social networks, and this is largely due to society's lack of equal distribution of responsibilities," says Ms Liundi.
A TGNP recent report shows that women in Tanzania today are overburdened with the responsibilities of raising families and providing careers that lead to a complete lack of economic, political and even timely information.
Ms Liundi says in this Covid-19 pandemic, access to accurate information is a right for every citizen, and, therefore, it is important that the methods used take into account the information needs of different social groups.
The coronavirus pandemic has raised new challenges in families and communities, especially for girls and even boys whose schools are closed, forcing them to remain at home. "Girls are at risk for early pregnancy and other forms of sexual violence because when children (girls and boys) are at home, parents are at work," she says.
Statistics show that approximately 60 per cent of sexual violence comes from home, and those who commit such acts are said to be close relatives or neighbours. In general, sexual violence increases significantly during disasters, not only for children, but also for women, she notes.
Recent reports from China, Europe and the United States show an increase in the incidence of sexual violence since Covid-19 began. For example, police reports in China show that sexual violence has tripled during this Covid-19 epidemic in February alone.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that in the coronavirus epidemic women are at greater risk of genderbased violence due to stress, increased household responsibilities, especially when children are at home.
In Tanzania today, many women are in the informal sector, where they engage themselves in various activities such as vending goods down the streets, marketplaces, small-scale manufacturing and domestic workers, tasks that make them leave a home environment and go outside where they meet people, often in a crowded environment.
Such situations put them at greater risk of contracting Covid-19. It is very important to put in place effective prevention strategies by reaching out to them and providing them with services and education how they can protect themselves.
In terms of maternal and child health, the medical reality of a pregnant woman is that her immune system is not very strong, especially when she is breastfeeding. The same is true for pregnant women as well, not only those in the health sector, but even those in our communities.
It is best for them to protect themselves, the community, employers, the government, and apply social distancing by avoid overcrowding. In crowded areas, it is good to emphasise preventive measures, including handwashing, to get a few services by staying one metre away from each other, while standing in long queues.
It is very important that parents, fathers and mothers make sure they are responsible for protecting themselves while in their obligations outside their homes because when an infected parent returns home can infect children. In this case it becomes very difficult to protect them.
Government authorities deserve credit because they have started making sure that in urban areas where there is lack of reliable transport there is a system where people apply social distancing to avoid contracting the disease.
The status of public transport should make it safe for all groups of people in the community such as women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities who usually struggle for transport to and from the workplace.
"There is a favourite service for women, but at this time of the coronavirus pandemic we need to be more focused," says Ms Liundi, adding that the issue of hand-washing and other hygiene measures should be taken into account.
Children are at home, following the closure of schools and colleges, therefore, they are supposed to study and do household chores indoor, she notes.
It is parents' concern that children, especially girls, study to compensate what they have missed during the closure of schools. TGNP recommends some measures as the world continues to take precautionary measures against the disease.
Authorised authorities should ensure that areas where women and men carry out their economic activities are safe to ensure all precautions are taken, including the purification of water, such as sanitiser, regular disinfectant spraying to ensure the safety of this group.
TGNP recommends various ways of providing education to enable home educators reach out to the elderly community, many of who are at home, and are the main victims of coronavirus disease. Educators should also reach out to the business women in markets who often spend time in business and risk getting inaccurate information due to the type and interaction of the people they meet.
During this period of the pandemic, says TGNP, the community should understand that homework is not just a woman's job, so spouses can help each other with homework to enable women to have time to fulfill their office responsibilities.
According to TGNP, all Tanzanians should be careful and cautious without compromising the geography criterion and rural dwellers should change their mindset as coronavirus has no limits.
We encourage communities to focus on good nutrition and exercise to help people know how to deal with the coronavirus epidemic and help the community and government overcome the huge burden of providing medical care to patients with respiratory illnesses.
The experience seen in other countries so far has shown that Covid-19 disaster has resulted in the insecurity of people and their property and that is why all precautions should be taken to fight spread of the this disease.