Reporting date: 16 October, 2020
Total cases: 43.143
In the first months of 2020, as COVID-19 began to shake the West, East Africa remained largely untouched. Using time to their advantage, the Kenyan government was quick to act – putting in place a number of preparedness and response plans that, many believe, have spared the nation from the worst of the pandemic. Despite these wins, months of strict lockdown have come at a great cost – with long-term implications for health, wellbeing and poverty levels. Find out how we’re scaling up our efforts to reach the country’s poorest as we enter a new phase of the crisis…
The government’s COVID-19 response strategy was designed to strengthen the country’s fragile healthcare system, squash local outbreaks and protect lives – and that it has done. Yet, the restrictive measures put in place – including travel restraints, the closure of schools and offices, a nightly curfew and even a 21-day period of absolute restrictions of movement – have firmly taken their toll on East Africa’s largest economy. Despite the best of intentions, this robust approach has put a huge strain on livelihoods across the country – something that Felipe Jaramillio, World Bank Country Director, has been quick to point out reflects the importance of ‘balance’ in government response policies.
The greatest hardships from the evolving crisis have disproportionately been felt by the poorest in Kenya. Vulnerable households who rely heavily on farming, an informal wage or self-employment have suddenly seen their main sources of income cut off. Between April and June alone, the Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) reported that 1.7 million jobs were lost as a result of the pandemic. Supporting these families – either through cash transfers or equivalent – is made harder by the fledgling welfare and safety nets system in the country. As we enter the next phase of the crisis, and infections spike, the harsh reality of deepening poverty and poor access to basic services, such as clean water, is unavoidable.
The Dorcas Kenya team continues to work together as part of our emergency response operation in the country to scale up and adapt our existing WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) and livelihoods programmes to help vulnerable families and individuals cope with the crisis.
Scaling up WASH
With poor hygiene, crowded living and lack of access to water and sanitation facilities endemic across Kenya, the virus has been able to spread quickly. For this reason, the continuation of our WASH programmes is absolutely vital. Across Siaya and Kaijado counties we are on the ground – working closely with the Ministry of Health – to sensitize communities on COVID-19, increase access to water and set up handwashing stations.
Working closely with both the county governments of Siaya and Kaijado together with our local partners North Gem Community Development and Shokut Naretoi Community Development we have been able to extend water pipelines to underserved communities. We have also expanded our sanitation and hygiene activities to incorporate messaging on handwashing, wearing of face masks and social distancing. To help communities better shield themselves from the virus, we have trained our team of community health volunteers to deliver vital hygiene information and practical advice to the households in their care – as well as work with public health departments to boost home-based care for isolated individuals.
For many Kenyans, good information about the virus is hard to come by. People flouting the rules in rural areas believe that the disease is confined to the capital, Nairobi, while those who become infected aren’t always willing to speak out due to issues of stigma.
Dorcas, through the support of local partners, has been conducting awareness-raising campaigns in remote communities. The gatherings – which see community members come together to learn, discuss and identify solutions to limit the spread locally – take place in small groups outside and adhere to strict Ministry of Health protocols. We have also integrated an awareness-raising module into the implementation phase of our programmes – so that our partners, staff and those we serve are equipped with the tools to stay safe and healthy.
To address the sudden loss of jobs throughout the country, particularly in the informal sector, we have taken steps to safeguard and secure livelihoods. In Kitui and Makueni Counties we have supported value chains in honey and milk to function extra efficiently – generating more income for the most vulnerable households. We have also been busy reaching out to women, youth and people with disabilities in villages encouraging them to join the value chains projects and secure their incomes.
The projects now operate with COVID_19 awareness and preventative measures in place. These include social distancing during group meetings, community level trainings and information sharing.
School closures in Kenya have seen children spend long hours at home with parents who are experiencing high levels of stress as a result of the pandemic. We are protecting over 400 children in both the Kaijado and Siaya Counties by encouraging families to tackle COVID-19 together. The whole family comes together to learn about ways in which to protect themselves and others – as well as adopt better practices at home. COVID-19 actions, including the wearing of masks, social distancing and handwashing, have also been integrated into life skills training for parents and caregivers – all designed to keep people educated and informed on the best ways to fight the virus.
“Although the COVID-19 curve is somewhat flattening, the country is far from being out of the woods yet”, says Edwin Onyancha, Country Director for our Kenya programme. We all need to remain vigilant and maintain momentum – particularly in adhering to World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ministry of Health protocols as they evolve.
“This might sound simple but it’s usually a daunting task for people”, he continues. Normally, our guard lowers and we begin to return to ‘business as usual’.” In order to mitigate the long-term impact of COVID-19, the Kenyan economy is slowly opening-up. Shops are open until 11pm at night and as of 12 October, children and youth have returned to schools and learning institutions on a staggered basis. “While we are optimistic about the developments, Dorcas will continue to remain on high alert”, says Edwin. “Our approach moving forward is to do more awareness-raising, expand sanitation and hygiene activities in schools, introduce new social protection and COVID-19 preventative mechanisms and keep livelihoods afloat. This is how we prepare communities for every eventuality. We can’t afford to slow down or go backwards.”
Dorcas programmes in Kenya are primarily funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, foundations and private donors and implemented directly with the support of five local partners. We will continue to work together to raise awareness and shield Kenyan livelihoods as the pandemic expands. Learn more about our regular programme activities and latest projects on our dedicated country page.
10 November 2020