Protecting children from cholera
“We would rather get cholera than have the library close,” children complained when Given Besa, Manager of the Lubuto Model Library, told them the sad news of the library’s temporary shut-down in January 2018.
Four months earlier, a cholera outbreak hit Lusaka. Garden Compound, the densely-populated urban area where the Lubuto Model Library is located, was the epicenter of the outbreak, with 11 recorded cases in early October of 2017. Besa immediately visited nearby Chipata Clinic to learn how the library could support the fight against cholera. She was invited to join a Rapid Response team comprised of clinics and hospitals operating within Mandevu Constituency. Of the dozens of institutions represented, Lubuto Library Partners was the only non-healthcare-provider who participated in the response effort.
Through involvement on the Operations Committee of the Rapid Response group, Besa learned about measures the government and the community were taking to stem the outbreak. As a librarian, Besa immediately saw a role for herself and for the library in the provision of information to children, youth, and families on cholera prevention. Accordingly, Besa was given posters and flyers from the Rapid Response group to distribute in the community. Children visiting the library in October, November, and December studied the posters closely, and many requested additional information to take home to their families. Flyers were photocopied liberally at the library so there would be enough to go around.
As the number of cases slowly continued to rise, library staff taught children not to shake hands with people and purchased handwashing basins for the entrance to the library. But chronic water shortages in Garden made it difficult to keep the basins full, and staff received an increasing number of reports from children that they knew people with cholera—siblings, friends, and neighbors had started to get sick. In early January, a child died of cholera in Garden, leaving many library users grieving and afraid.
The cholera outbreak reached epidemic proportions in early January of 2018, with over 2,600 cases and 63 deaths in Lusaka. The government of Zambia responded with safety precautions including a ban on public gatherings and the extended closure of all public and private schools. In order to prevent cholera transmission in Garden, the time had come to temporarily close the Lubuto Model Library.
But not without a bitter fight from the children and youth who told us the library is their “second home.” Many refused to leave the building until the situation had been explained to them several times. Others cried, and said that “two weeks feels like a month,” arguing (correctly!) that the library had never been closed for such a long time in its 7 years of operation. Children told us they had nothing to do at home, and some even came back and offered to help clean the library and its surroundings so it would be ready to open sooner.
But fortunately, this sad story has a happy ending—cholera cases began to decline in mid-January, and it was announced that schools would reopen on January 23rd. With a date for re-opening of the library set, the staff have started planning a celebratory movie screening to welcome the kids back. It’s clear that they can’t wait!