Two weeks ago, eighteen representatives from partner institutions participating in the Monitoring for Safe Water (MfSW) program traveled from Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Guinea, and Senegal, to the African Water Association Congress (AfWA) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Meeting with representatives from all of these institutions in the same place, speaking with them, and learning from their discussions with each other was a tremendous learning opportunity. Throughout the week we could see the excitement and momentum grow around expanding and improving monitoring programs in these six countries.
Aquaya hosted a workshop and country meetings to discuss progress with and challenges to microbial water quality testing and the way forward for improved water quality monitoring in Africa.
Two workshop panel discussions – one for representatives of water suppliers and the other for health surveillance agencies – highlighted the results and open questions generated from MfSW, while meetings outside the workshop allowed us to focus on specific details of each partner institution’s monitoring efforts.
Several representatives discussed how supportive institutional frameworks and structures for testing helped them begin the MfSW program quickly. Eng. George Mungai (RUJWASCO, Kenya), Mr. Julius Byamugisha (SW Umbrella, Uganda), and Mr. Demba Balde (SNH, Senegal) indicated that their existing structure for testing allowed them to meet their testing targets quickly and that participation in the MfSW program had strengthened, regularized, and expanded coverage of existing efforts.
Eng. Wamuwi Changani (EWSC, Zambia) highlighted staff turnover as a challenge for water quality testing in his institution: their application for MfSW had been completed by someone who subsequently left EWSC, while staff who had been trained in testing also left, leaving a gap that delayed the start of their testing program. Mr. Brian Sikute Kandala (WWSC, Zambia) had also emphasized the challenge of staff turnover the day before at the Zambia country meeting. Both confirmed that they would recommend other institutions that were building water testing programs to train sufficient staff to minimize interruptions to testing and to increase capacity throughout the organization.
Many MfSW partners noted difficulties in procuring water testing equipment and consumables. In country meetings and during panel discussions, Ms. Florence Kabinga (Ministry of Health, Zambia), Mr. Christopher Kanyesigye (NWSC, Uganda), Mr. Marema Dechassa (Oromia Regional Health Bureau Ethiopia), Mr. Emmery Mbaha (Ministry of Health, Uganda), Eng. Paul Lolmingani (MAWASCO, Kenya) and Eng. George Mungai (RUJWASCO, Kenya) discussed problems ranging from being unable to locate any suppliers, locating too few suppliers to get an adequate number of quotes for government procurement processes, finding only equipment that was too expensive, backlogs in procurement systems that delayed processing, or suppliers who brought equipment that wasn’t up to standards or were missing parts. In addition, Mr. Oscar Vivier (SEG, Guinea) cited delays due to equipping labs with electricity. Some options for addressing equipment challenges were discussed between partners: for example, Eng. Wamuwi Changani (EWSC, Zambia) was able to share contact information for equipment suppliers with the district health offices.
We were also very excited to discuss water quality data applications. Representatives from District Health Offices (DHOs), Mr Robert Ongom (Gulu DHO, Uganda), Ms. Matimba Chizongo (Lusaka DHO, Zambia), and Mr. Kevin Kayando (Kisii Central DHO, Kenya), emphasized the importance of using data to guide corrective actions and to re-test to verify the affects of these actions. They also noted, however, that DHOs often lack the resources to follow all procedures. On a national level, Dr. Dennis Byamukama (APWO, Uganda), highlighted the need for data in sector reporting, while Mr. Benjamin Murkomen (Ministry of Health, Kenya) and Ms. Florence Kabinga (Ministry of Health, Zambia) offered insight into how water quality data can be used to educate policymakers on the importance of water quality management, which, in turn, can galvanize resources for monitoring and shift the focus of health programs from reaction to prevention.
In some cases, representatives from different organizations in the same country met each other for the first time during the AfWA Congress, and in many instances representatives with similar positions in different countries were able to share experiences. One theme that emerged during the workshop and during the country meetings was how institutions could best share resources and information to improve the efficiency of their programs. For example, can water suppliers and public health offices work together to identify and fill in gaps or share in procurement, as has happened in a collaboration between Mr. Kevin Kayando (Kisii Central DHO, Kenya) and Eng. John Magoba (GUWASCO, Kenya); can institutions build each others capacity as occurred when Eng. Paul Lolmingani (MAWASCO, Kenya) invited Mr. Andrew Kulecho (NAWASSCO, Kenya) to train MAWASCO staff in water quality testing.
The MfSW workshop concluded with an announcement of the newly-formed AfWA Science and Technology Committee’s (STC) Task Force for Water Quality Monitoring, which will coordinate water quality monitoring activities and knowledge sharing among member organizations.
I was impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of participants in our conversations, which ranged from a government minister to lab managers, and their interest in improving their ability to ensure safe water to those they are entrusted to serve. Stay tuned as we continue to gather data and build the evidence base for the factors that influence water quality monitoring throughout Africa.