Timor-Leste, or East Timor, a country of 1.3 million people in Southeast Asia, has not reported a single case of COVID-19 since all 24 of its citizens who contracted the disease recovered in May — thanks in part to their practice of handwashing.
A quick response: After confirming its first case of the disease on March 21, the country implemented a series of measures to prevent an outbreak.
East Timor, which shares the island of Timor with Indonesia, closed its land borders on March 19.
Two days later, the Ministry of Health confirmed the country’s first case of COVID-19.
A state of emergency was declared on March 28, halting public transport, school operations and large gatherings like church ceremonies.
On April 6, the Parliament approved a resolution containing measures to address the impact of COVID-19, such as the establishment of quarantine and testing facilities, provision of protective equipment to health professionals, and maintenance of establishments selling food, fuel, and medical products.
The resolution also called for a more intensive campaign on handwashing and social distancing, which would be instrumental in the country’s control of the virus.
“The government decided to take timely and decisive action at the earliest possible stage to both contain the spread of the virus and to support our citizens and the economy,” Fidelis Magalhães, Timor-Leste’s Minister of Legislative Reforms and Parliamentary Affairs, wrote on The Diplomat.
The official added: “We believe a swift and coordinated public sector response, an economic stimulus package, and the avoidance of an extensive and complete lockdown, coupled with a strengthened social safety net, can significantly avert the catastrophic human and economic consequences seen in other countries.”
Wash your hands: In accordance with the recommendation of the World Health Organization, East Timor has intensively campaigned for handwashing.
East Timor reported a total of 24 COVID-19 cases on May 1, which all recovered on May 15.
Part of the country’s success in preventing the spread of the disease is its campaign for handwashing, which parts of the population have religiously practiced in the last few years.
The program, which sought to increase access to safe water, taught the installation of handwashing devices called “tippy taps,” which are simply makeshift containers that tip and release water with the control of a foot pedal.
“What ICRO did was to raise awareness on the importance of good personal hygiene and sanitation, which triggered the increased uptake of communities building and using the tippy-taps,” Edd Wright, Southeast Asia regional director for World Neighbors, told Forbes.
Still, only 28% of East Timor’s population has access to handwashing facilities with soap and water, according to WaterAid, an NGO focused on water, sanitation, and hygiene. To aid the country in its fight against COVID-19, the organization assists the Ministry of Health in providing information, materials, and training on water, sanitation, and hygiene to frontline health workers and health posts in rural areas.
WaterAid is also part of a task force assigned in the municipality of Manufahi. Alongside partners, the organization offered material support in the form of six large water tanks (for public handwashing stations), 15 disinfectant tanks, handwashing soap, disinfectant materials, 30 raincoats and two boxes of bleach.
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