Experts: Why self-quarantine is impractical in slums

Say overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of safe food and water could worsen situation.

In Summary

• Apart from being densely populated, residents in informal settlements lack basic infrastructure and services like clean safe water. 

• Residents of these informal settlements are also affected by little or no savings and also by health burdens. 

Prof Omu Anzala during a discussion on COVID-19 at UoN towers on March 12 2020
GAPS: Prof Omu Anzala during a discussion on COVID-19 at UoN towers on March 12 2020

Experts have expressed fears that self-quarantine doesn't work in congested and dirty informal settlements where disease can sweep through and wreak havoc.

Overcrowding, poor sanitation and lack of safe food and water already contribute to the high prevalence of diarrhoea and other infectious diseases within slums.

The situation could worsen should Covid-19 infection occur in  Kibera, Mathare, Kayole, Dandora, Baba Dogo, Fuata Nyayo, Huruma and Kawangware.

Apart from being densely populated, residents in these areas lack basic infrastructure and services like clean safe water.

"You will find a family of up to five people living in the same house in Kiber a. We share infrastructure like toilets. We are told to wash our hands frequently asa measure to preventing Covid-19 yet access to water is a problem,” Rebecca, a resident said.

Economist Joy Kiiru said it would be impractical to tell people who depend on daily wages to self-quarantine for 14 to 21 days. 

“Maybe we should think about bringing in philanthropists who can come together and address the issue of food and hunger,” Kiiru, said.

The experts have also dismissed the myth that Africans are immune to Covid-19.

"Looking critically at Covid-19 and realising it is a cluster virus, I want to say that there is very little travel in Africa compared to other continents like Asia. There is also an element of climate because these countries that have been worst hit have a history of flu especially during winter outbreaks," Omu Anzala, a virologist said.

The experts want providers of alternative medicine to be provided with protective gear and trained to detect symptoms of Covid-19 as they are the first point of contact in some communities.

With knowledge, they will be able to detect any cases and advise for referral as soon as possible.

“Kenyans have different health-seeking behaviours. We have people who seek help from traditional means and herbal medicines are one of them. We should have partnerships with these other systems because they can’t be completely washed away,” Salome Bukachi, an anthropologist said.

Doctors on Friday advised that those who suspect to have the virus should self-isolate at home and call 0800721316, the toll-free hotline provided by the Ministry of Health.

Health workers with proper protection will then call and from preliminary assessment determine if you need isolation in a health facility.

Public health specialist Dr Cosmas Mugambi said in most patients symptoms clear up within a week. “There is no treatment for coronavirus, but medical care can manage most of the symptoms,” he said.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe on Tuesday said talks with the water ministry have been arrived at to ensure water is available not just in these areas but across the country.

The government has also closed schools, cancelled mass gatherings, advised people to work from home, avoid crowds and self-isolate when necessary.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that people with chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, and those above 60 years avoid crowds as much as possible. These two groups are the most vulnerable. 


(edited by o. owino)