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China Daily Global / 2020-05 / 22 / Page001

Front-line workers bravely help the poor in Kenya

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-05-22 00:00

Healthcare workers in informal settlements in Kenya, which has so far recorded 1,029 coronavirus cases and at least 50 deaths, are braving the risk of contracting the coronavirus to deliver crucial medical services to residents of the nation's slums.

At the Lengo Medical Clinic in Nairobi's Mukuru Kayaba slum, Kennedy Kipchumba, the clinic's chief executive and founder, said people living in slums are among the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

Although the government has spelled out restrictions and social distancing rules, "the people in this community do not have food and depend on daily wages to survive. That is why they cannot stay at home. In addition, most houses are crammed together, with up to 10 people living in one-room houses, creating a precarious situation should we have an outbreak in the slum," Kipchumba said.

While appreciating the efforts made by the government to fight the virus, Kipchumba, who employs 13 people at his facility, said the government has reached out to them during the pandemic, but aid had not yet arrived.

"Government officials have visited my clinic twice and promised to send us personal protective equipment, but they are yet to be delivered," he said. "We are therefore operating in very risky conditions, because this clinic serves the whole slum, and in case of an outbreak we fear that we might be overwhelmed by patients. Yet we do not have means to test or treat the virus."

Ethren Lungazo, who has taken her son to the clinic, said they have depended on the facility for years and are glad they have access to its services during the pandemic.

"My son complained about a stomach ache and Lengo Clinic was my first stop. ... We cannot afford private hospitals, and the government hospitals are not available in our locality. We are grateful that Lengo Clinic can offer us services that would be hard to get, especially during curfew hours," Lungazo said.

She added that although social distancing is a challenge in the slum, she is glad the clinic is enforcing strict social distancing. She also said the clinic has given her leaflets with information on the novel coronavirus, and she intends to share the information with her neighbors.

Kipchumba said, "My grandparents used to treat people using traditional herbs, and that is why I fell in love with medicine at a young age.

"As health workers, we are driven by the passion to heal, and as people run away from the coronavirus, health workers have to run toward it in order to confront it," he said.

Ensuring continued access to healthcare during the pandemic is the duty of healthcare workers, since they are the front-line soldiers in the war against the virus," Kipchumba said.

"This is the only facility within the slum that offers maternity services, and we carry out up to 60 deliveries every month. We have been working for 24 hours even during the pandemic, because despite the risk, our services are still critical, since this slum depends on us," he said.

According to Kipchumba, who established the clinic in 2007, the slums are also hotbeds of substance and drug abuse, and the fact that schools are closed due to the virus puts children at risk of being involved in delinquent behavior.

"I see the coronavirus pandemic as the litmus test that will separate the wheat from the chaff. Our job is a calling, and the pandemic is a challenge to all health workers to put in extra effort because lives depend on us," Kipchumba added.




A Kenyan health worker takes an oral swab from a resident during mass testing for COVID-19 in Nairobi on Wednesday. SIMON MAINA/AFP



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