Her Word - Women Living in Kisumu County Respond to the COVID 19 pandemic - 09-04-2020

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The country is experiencing heavy rains and residents of Kisumu County are worried that on top of the current COVID 19 pandemic, floods will exacerbate the current situation. This is because cholera and malaria cases are expected to increase.

Additionally, the health care sector in Kisumu County is under scrutiny particularly because it is among the pilot counties in which H.E President Uhuru launched the Universal Health Care (UHC) project in 2019.

During the focus group discussion, women were concerned that the county’s health care human resource and facilities were below the capacity needed to respond to COVID 19 infections. Additionally, if the health care system solely focused on responding to COVID 19, there were questions on whether other patients with life threatening diseases such as cancer and diabetes would be treated.

Presently, it is reported that Kisumu  county is already experiencing heightened Gender Based Violence (GBV), specifically,  Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Additionally, the access to Sexual Reproductive Health services and products by women and girls is already experiencing shortages due to movement restrictions and the country-wide curfew . Further, with girls at home, it is feared that there will be an increase in early teenage pregnancies and marriages. Furthermore, pregnant women who would go into labour during curfew hours are at high risk. It was also noted that issues of mental health during these times of isolation were critical - but not being given priority.

Because washing hands with soap and water is the cheapest and most effective method of preventing the spread of COVID 19, Kisumu County government has promptly adapted its response. Though there was initially resistance from residents, this has since changed as the locals have embraced hand washing to curb the spread of the virus. Physical distancing is also gaining traction in public spaces. The Kisumu Water and Sanitation Company has been expanding its reach to ensure that all households have access to water with a particular focus on informal settlements. They are also partnering with other organisations to set up water kiosks and hand washing stations in various communities. They recognise that there are many households with no connection to water and have  therefore offered a subsidised flat rate of KES 500 to ensure connectivity.

In this regard, participants in the discussion noted that more community sensitization needs to be conducted on the importance of the collective fight against COVID 19. One participant stated that while the local leaders have been distributing water tanks for community usage, there were some women who had abused this process by taking these communal facilities to their homes for personal use.

One of the other themes that stands out is the lack of disability responsiveness due to absence of data  for persons with disabilities (PWDs) - more so women with disabilities. This has contributed to marginalization of PWDs in the COVID 19 related response.  Essential products such as water points and foodstuffs are inaccessible to PWDs.

Some of the solutions discussed included focusing on subsistence farming as an interim activity to feed families even as the government rolls out food distribution. Additionally, they proposed that information on COVID 19 be shared in different local languages with citizens.

Altogether, participants are optimistic that if  locals adhere fully to preventive measures set forth by the National and County Government, they will be able to avoid the brunt of the virus.  On a positive note, the quarantine period is fostering  closer ties in families.

Click to listen to the full interview




Olive Kabisa