Blazing the trail: How coast slum flattened the curve

What you need to know:

  • The raft of containment measures announced by the Ministry of Health were, however, not immediately adhered to in many parts of the country.
  • Many people felt that the disease would not spread beyond Nairobi.

When Kenya confirmed the first Covid-19 case on March 13, everyone was shocked.

However, the raft of containment measures announced by the Ministry of Health were not immediately adhered to in many parts of the country.

Many people felt that the disease would not spread beyond Nairobi.

Furthermore, there were widespread – if misleading- rumours that there was no Covid-19 in the country.

Bangladesh slum in Jomvu sub-county, the Mombasa County, was no exception. The locals were so steeped in cynicism that not even after the first case was announced in Mombasa did they start taking Covid-19 rules seriously.

Residents of Bangladesh slum in Mombasa fetch free water supplied by Mombasa Cement in April without observing social distancing.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The tide, however, turned when Mombasa was declared a hotspot for the coronavirus.

Soon, the county became the epicentre of the pandemic in the country and was among the devolved units that had to be placed on partial lockdown to curb the spread of the viral disease.

The reality sank in as residents of Bangladesh, the largest slum in the country, came face to face with cases of relatives and friends who had contracted the disease, as others buried their loved ones due to the disease.

This prompted awareness campaigns across the region that led the more than 20,000 Bangladesh residents to ensure compulsory compliance to hand hygiene practices at all public places to guard themselves against the dangerous virus, which was spreading fast.

Mercifully, six months later, their efforts have borne fruit and the settlement seems to have managed to beat the virus.

On Tuesday, Bangladesh was the only informal settlement that did not report any new coronavirus case in Mombasa.

The county, which is finally flattening the curve, has over 2,000 coronavirus cases, with more than 60 fatalities.

Mvita remains the hotspot in the entire Coast region.

So, how did Bangladesh do it?

At all entry and exit points to Bangladesh, more than 20 hand-washing stations have been installed. The centres are manned by volunteers.

A boy washes his hands at a point set up at Bangladesh sports grounds. The residents have a strict protocol requiring everyone to wash their hands before they enter or exit the village in Jomvu sub-county. 

Photo credit: Winnie Atieno | Nation Media Group

Both the visitors and the residents are required to strictly adhere to the hand-washing protocol before they enter the small poverty-stricken village.

“We have free sanitisers and face masks. We also supply the residents with free water using our bowsers,” said Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco) Coast region programme coordinator Joseph Oluoch.

Shofco also supplies free soap.

Mr Oluoch said the residents are “religious hand-washers”.

Shofco has been training the youth, persons living with disabilities and women in the area on how to make soap, sanitisers and face masks, which are later given out to the villagers.

Photo credit: Winnie Atieno | Nation Media Group

“We have not experienced many coronavirus cases in the slums, except for Muoroto in Tudor, where we had two cases. This is because donors are investing in wash programmes in the slums. We have also invested a lot in hygiene programmes in all the informal settlements,” said outgoing county Public Health chief officer Aisha Abubakar.

Ms Abubakar observed that, as a result, even as the rains continue to pound the county, Mombasa has not reported any cholera cases in the slums, which are usually the major hotspots.

She said the county’s Health department has also been conducting community health sensitisation programmes and door-to-door hygiene clinics.

Governor Hassan Joho also urged the residents to continue observing the coronavirus safety guidelines.

“Coronavirus is still real. I want to remind you of the importance of adhering to the safety guidelines. Wear a face mask, maintain social distance and wash your hands to fight the virus. We must eradicate this disease in Mombasa. We have made strides but we are not off the hook yet,” insisted Mr Joho.

Locals also weighed in on the matter.

“Our children now know the importance of hand-washing. We used to experience diarrhoea cases but nowadays we don’t have any,” said Ms Rachael Kanini, a Bangladesh resident.

Mr Dan Ouma, who operates hand-washing facilities in Bangladesh, says all visitors to the slum are taken through the hand-washing protocol and given a free face mask before being allowed into the village.

“We are fighting for survival. Our children are our police; they report any suspicious incidents and those who refuse to wash their hands. But so far everyone has been compliant,” said the health volunteer.

He lauded the community policing team for helping with contact tracing.

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