"I am a mother! I am supposed to know everything!" Coronavirus in Kenya


Posted on
25th Mar 2020
by Ellie Dawes

Community engagement Health coronavirus Kenya Nairobi baby boxes team mum

Many of us in the UK have been keeping a keen eye on developments in other countries this week, as the world watches how each country in turn moves to deal with the global health crisis. At Child.org, the vulnerable women and families who participate in our programmes are a top priority, here's what we've been hearing from them...

The following updates come direct from members of our Kenyan team and community, I'm publishing them from me in the UK because at present there are some government restrictions on publishing information about the virus online (to control the spread of misinformation). We don't think this update falls foul of these rules - but we want to make double sure that all the Child.org team are absolutely in line with government policy.

 

“Every time when I close my eyes, I can't help but wonder how will we get through this? How do I protect my family? What do I know about this Corona, what do I tell my kids? I am a mother! I am supposed to know everything. I have never felt this helpless and unsure before.”  These were the words of one of our mums in regards to the Covid19 pandemic in Kenya. 

On March 13th 2020, Kenya's health cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe confirmed the first case of coronavirus. Since that day the cases have gradually increased to 28 confirmed cases with hundreds more suspected.

Members of the Child.org team have spent the last week calling the mums who were participants in Child.org's Baby Box programme, and found widespread fear and anxiety. People told us that they dread every second there is a headline on the presidential press briefing because they know they will not love the news.

“I'm worried, we do not understand anything, we don't understand if the transmission is through the air.” Most people living in the informal settlements in Nairobi do not have enough basic knowledge on how to respond to this pandemic. They told us:

“I need information on what Corona is, the symptoms, how to differentiate those symptoms from a common flu and how to prevent it.” 

“It is very bad, I don't know what to do. I need education on how to avoid it. Where will we get food if we are not working?” 

There is a huge need for detailed information on how to get through this pandemic to reach these communities. Most people we spoke to could not describe all the symptoms. In a scenario where people do not understand the symptoms, they can get the virus and keep interacting with people assuming it is a minor infection and will be over soon. Before this is discovered it might cause a whole lot of damage that as a country we can not contain. There is a huge need in creating awareness around this pandemic. 

“The government is making us so scared and not telling us how big this coronavirus is.”

Child.org are concerned about the climate of fear that we're noticing in Kenya, and the team are keen to sensitize people to be informed rather than creating fear without awareness. Information needs to be created in a simple and convenient way so that everyone can understand and access it.

“I am scared, we are in a place where there are so many people.” “I feel anxious about the whole situation. I am scared that now my child is learning to walk and very playful, I can not contain the situation and protect him enough.” 

In Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, the population of people living in the informal settlement is estimated to be 1.7 million. 

The photo of Kibera, Nariobi, (above) demonstrates how close together people are living in these areas. The people living here are very concerned about the speed at which the virus might spread if even one person becomes infected. 
 

“I would love to stay at home, but I can not, if I do, what will we eat? Even money to buy the soap is a problem!” 

Many of the people who live here are living from hand to mouth. It is hard for a good number of people to stay at home, as advised to be the best form of controlling the virus spread. Most have families looking up on them to place food on the table. Self quarantine is the best option - but it might not be possible for many of the people living here.

Taking positive action against the virus

There are lots of reasons to be positive - we've seen early and positive action against the virus in Kenya. The Government of Kenya are introducing more stringent measures earlier than many other countries which is likely to slow transmission. In informal settlements, Community Health Volunteers have been going from house to house to improve people's understanding of infection and the need to stay home. On Monday, the president said they are looking into ways to support small businesses and the people -  they are holding meetings with the private sector.

Child.org are conducting health need assessments to discover where we can meet the most urgent need for health information and resources. In Meru (rural Kenya), we're investigating ways to reach the pregnant women from our Pregnant Women's Groups (as the meetings have currently been put on hold). We hope to reach these women with a new text message system - we're concerned that the fear we're hearing from people will stop pregnant women from seeking the healthcare they need to keep themselves and their babies safe. We're also seeing a real lack of handwashing facilities and protective equipment like masks in the healthcare facilities we're working with. 

Child.org are small and agile. Our team are experts at moving fast and adapting our work. However, meeting these new challenges is particularly difficult when we have just experienced such a sudden loss in income, due to the cancellation of events and travel in the UK and elsewhere. If you are able to, please donate to our urgent coronavirus appeal, be agile and adapt your fundraising, and you can help us to suport these communities and adapt our work. 

Corona memes from the Kenyan team...

"As a country, humor has always gotten us through dark times, being a ‘meme lord’ is quite a thing here. Here are some memes that might keep you smiling even in this dark times..."