When Rwanda was first hit by the novel coronavirus early this year, quick measures had to be put in place to ensure that the pandemic is controlled. One of the measures was frequent washing of hands and as such private and public facilities had to install handwashing equipment.
Soon enough photos showing the country flooded with portable sinks for hand-washing at bus stops, restaurants, banks and shops were circulating in international media that the World Health Organisation (WHO) commended Rwanda on its efforts.
SEEN IN KIGALI: To prevent the risk of #Coronavirus outbreak, passengers at the Kigali Bus Park have to wash their hands before getting onto buses.#Rwanda has recorded NO case of the epidemic but the country has stepped up vigilance. pic.twitter.com/tb7cfUNj7K— The New Times (Rwanda) (@NewTimesRwanda) March 9, 2020
ECOMEM CO. Ltd, located in Gisozi, Kigali is a local company that deals in supply and distribution of construction and sanitization materials. It was the sole distributor of the portable hand-wash sink, at a time when the country was in dire need of them.
Paulin Murego, the CEO and founder of the company explained how these equipment were readily available.
As a company that distributes sanitation products, he had to find a solution for hand washing sinks when Ebola broke out in neighbouring Congo in 2018. This is because the portable handwashing equipment that were in place at that time involved placing basins underneath the tap which exposed them to the virus.
Working in partnership with SATO, a company that deals with sanitation equipment they delivered a compact and portable hand-wash sink station, with a Hands-free water dispenser activated via foot pump and a drainage hose length of 2.7 ft.
“I’m passionate about hygiene and I needed to think of a solution that is smarter and less risky to contamination. I started off with displaying the sinks at all the expo events organised in Rwanda but I didn’t get as many clients as people were not used to the product yet. The first big sale was last year during the Kwita Izina event that took place in Musanze.
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, I got overwhelming demand that I eventually ran out of stock. People preferred these sinks because they are smart and are quick to assemble design for on-site setup,” Murego says.
The company, he added, repairs and installs any extra parts needed at no transportation costs.
Challenges in supply
With a high demand for the sinks and no stock, the country ran out of supplies due to the total lockdown that limited transportation.
“Unfortunately by the time we got more stock, people had opted for the other foot pump sinks commonly known as ‘kandagira ukarabe’. Currently we are stuck with a lot of stock and no clients buy these sinks.
Some people had already made losses due to the effect of the lockdown and therefore couldn’t afford smarter portable sinks and so chose welders to make the local ones while others rely solely on hand sanitisers, he added.
Need for sensitisation
Although Rwanda is doing a job in curbing the spread of COVID-19, Murego believes that proper hygiene should be emphasized by installing more handwash facilities especially in crowded places like churches and schools.
“It’s been scientifically proven that hand washing is more hygienic than hand sanitisers. I hope that more sensitization is made for people to wash their hands regularly and avoid contact from dirty water that is common with local portable hand washing sinks.
However, the locally constructed handwash facilities are not enough to maintain the hygiene of churches and schools, because it’s not easy to manufacture them on a large scale" he says.
Murego adds that plans are underway to open up more branches across the country to ease the distribution of these products and hopes that people can adapt to smarter solutions.