LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Covid-19 interventions in slums shouldbe well organised

The global spread of Covid-19 poses a great risk for the one billion people who live in slums globally.

In Summary

• Informal settlements and elderly individuals with underlying health conditions are, particularly at greater risk.

• Despite these challenges, this is an opportunity to forge new partnerships between different agencies that if they work together can reach the populations in need.

City Stars CEO Patrick Korir hands food to a Kibera Slum resident
City Stars CEO Patrick Korir hands food to a Kibera Slum resident
Image: COURTESY

Dealing with COVID-19 in the Informal Settlements

Last week in Kibra, we saw residents fighting for food donations by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The slums are mostly made of families of  two to five people living in a single room shack that is normally around three meters by four meters, adjacent to each other.

Worse, a pit latrine is shared by different families and with a single water tap if available. There is also very limited public space for roads, open fields and pathways. Practices such as social distancing, staying at home and regular hand washing are not part of their daily life. Residents usually face repeated disasters cholera, fires, flooding and mudslides. The global spread of Covid-19 poses a great risk for the one billion people who live in slums globally.

Informal settlements and elderly individuals with underlying health conditions are particularly at greater risk. Despite these challenges, this is an opportunity to forge new partnerships between different agencies that if they work together can reach the populations in need. Tapping community organisations and faith-based groups will help convey these messages to fight myths and misinformation and to increase social pressure for behavioural change in the fight against Covid-19.

This population has very little savings, if any, and they work in the informal economy, often as employees in informal enterprises, selling vegetables, cleaners, domestic servants, factory workers and guards. Living hand-to-mouth, often bringing them into close contact with people, and simply cannot stop working because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Measures to distribute foods in an organised way to keep them at home will help reduce the Covid-19 spread and cash transfers to the vulnerable citizens so that they have the means to survive.

Formal health services are rare in most informal settlements, the few available tend to be understaffed, underequipped, and are likely to be overwhelmed should the coronavirus get out of hand. Also, where these services do exist, charges for medicine put them out of reach for the residents. Households may supplement these services with traditional providers either because they do not trust the quality or because costs are lower. Identifying high-risk locations and help those individuals who are health-wise weak into isolation and providing them with access to emergency health services if required. Equipped and staffed free mobile health facilities should be going around the informal settlements, to help and detect any Covid-19 and other diseases in the community. For those who test positive and face difficulties self-isolating at home, setting up isolation centres in stadiums and parks will be crucial.

Finally, we are already in a global economic recession, we need to identify measures that help communities respond to the economic crisis, with assistance from social welfare departments and humanitarian agencies.

 

Ndirangu Ngunjiri Managing Partner Watermark Consultants

[email protected]