Tackling COVID-19 in Kenya’s slums

by | May 18, 2023 | Global Health (GH) | 0 comments

Article written by Samuel Hurley, Social Responsibility and Public Engagement Intern.

Kibera slum in Nairobi. Keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in Kenya’s crowded slums presented a significant challenge.

Globally, around 1 billion people live in urban slums. Slum communities face overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, leading to a high risk of disease transmission. Sub-Saharan Africa has a large urban slum population and thus faced significant risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. With millions of urban slum residents, Kenya was a country of concern. Urban slums in cities such as Nairobi and Nakuru are cramped, with a high population density, multi-generational households, shared sanitation facilities, and high levels social mixing. Unsanitary conditions and widespread poverty has led to poor health outcomes for the countries slum population, who face a significantly higher mortality rate than the rest of the urban population.

Most of Kenya’s slum inhabitants rely on informal employment. To ensure a reliable source of income for themselves and their families, many slum residents are unable to give up work, despite facing increased risk of infection. While lockdowns across the globe aimed to restrict human interaction to reduce Covid transmission, such measures were impossible in Kenya’s slums.

To prevent Kenya’s slums from becoming a disease hotspot, a more tailored mitigation approach was needed. Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, in 2020, a cross-disciplinary team of researchers, including colleagues from the School of Medical Sciences and the Department of Geography, set out to improve Covid outcomes in Kenya’s slums. During a time where little international work was taking place, the pandemic presented an important but challenging time for research.

Unlike previous studies, The University of Manchester’s project aimed not just to identify local knowledge and attitudes surrounding Covid, but implement an effective public health campaign. Working in three main slums in Nairobi (Kibera), Nakuru (Rhoda), and Kisii, to assess project impact, researchers conducted knowledge surveys through questionnaires before and after Covid health measures had taken place. In addition to distributing free cloth masks, researchers organised awareness campaigns through leaflets and local media to inform residents on how to reduce disease transmission. Local community leaders were identified to ensure maximum reach within the population. Throughout the study, Geographical Information System (GIS) technology was used to inform the distribution of the questionnaires and health campaigns, emphasising the importance of cross-disciplinary approaches to healthcare.

“The role of informal settlements in Africa is important in planning for future epidemics and special attention and policy interventions are needed to address the specific needs of people living in these environments” – Professor Mahesh Nirmalan, Vice Dean for Social Responsibility

In a challenging time and setting, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from Manchester were able to conduct a vital health intervention in extremely deprived community, reducing healthcare inequalities at a local scale. The project has recently entered completion. Keep an eye out for the research paper in the coming months.

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