FIGHTING COVID-19

Community pivotal to slowing corona

Empower individuals, families as advocates of policies that promote, protect well-being.

In Summary
  • The success of reducing the spread of infection is hinged on individual responsibility and calling communities to action.
  • The right information needs to be shared, simplified and illustrative pathways and positive practices advanced through engagement and deliberate adherence to public health information.
Esther Lochodo washes her hands during a coronavirus sensitisation drive in Turkana North.
Esther Lochodo washes her hands during a coronavirus sensitisation drive in Turkana North.
Image: HESBORN ETYANG

President Uhuru Kenyatta on July 6, 2020, began the gradual reopening of Kenya’s economy, which has been crippled by the stringent Covid-19 measures. Key among the measures eased is the cessation of travel into and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera. These counties were put under partial lockdown in April after they reported a higher number of Covid-19 cases.

Nairobi and Mombasa have largely been the epicentres, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the confirmed cases. The lifting of the travel restrictions will undoubtedly lead to an increase in the number of cases in the other counties as evidenced by the past week.

Most surveys indicate that knowledge about the pandemic is generally high countrywide, but it has not translated into sufficient behaviour change on the ground. Physical distancing is not adhered to, with many still flocking funerals and other public gatherings; masks are rarely won and where they are, they are not properly won. Many Kenyans have introduced new ways of greeting each other, perpetuating physical contacts through the elbows and fists.

 

The laissez-faire attitude has its roots in early myths and misconceptions such as Africans would not be infected, or the virus would not harm them. When the first case was reported in March, people outside of the major cities dismissed the pandemic as a ‘main town’ problem and indeed many who travelled before the partial lockdown reported being stigmatised.

Prevention must thus focus on the community. To achieve this, we must do two key things. First, we must strengthen community health structures in line with our aspirations for universal health coverage. One of the key tenets of UHC is empowering individuals, families, and communities as advocates of policies that promote and protect health and well-being.

There has to be concerted effort by everyone. We must appreciate the distinct role of the healthcare system, local leaders, the community, household and the individual. To reduce the burden of healthcare, strengthening communities to participate in detecting, reporting, and referring persons suspected to have Covid-19 is encouraged.

Kenya has been working to strengthen this component and it is time this was re-emphasised and put to good use. We must strengthen community health units and deploy sufficient numbers of community health volunteers to support sensitisation, surveillance, case detection and referrals.

Secondly, behaviour change among populations of all ages needs a complete mind shift. What does it mean for Kenyans, for instance, when the health fraternity speaks of ‘your health your responsibility’? A sustained change in practices that promote and prevent the disease has to be broken down to ordinary Kenyans to enhance a sense of responsibility.

The success of reducing the spread of infection is hinged on individual responsibility and calling communities to action. The right information needs to be shared, simplified and illustrative pathways and positive practices advanced through engagement and deliberate adherence to public health information.

There has to be concerted effort by everyone. We must appreciate the distinct role of the healthcare system, local leaders, the community, household and the individual. To reduce the burden of healthcare, strengthening communities to participate in detecting, reporting, and referring persons suspected to have Covid-19 is encouraged.

Kenya Red Cross with the support of trained volunteers (community health volunteers and Red Cross volunteers) will continue to be on high alert for surveillance as well as consistent sensitisation across all the 47 counties.