Since the COVID19 pandemic hit Kenya and with close to 300 cases confirmed so far, measures to enforce a lockdown or in Kenya’s case, a partial lockdown in the form of a night curfew, are now in full effect. As citizens go about navigating working and schooling from home, there are millions for whom staying at home is a bigger risk and expense than earning their daily or weekly wages outside of the home. Some of these include women who are trapped in their home with an abusive partner, children from volatile households and persons living with disabilities, to name a few.
It is crucial that the government takes in to consideration the unique challenges that are faced by various vulnerable groups and ensure that COVID19 responses include ways to reach and intervene in these special cases. Hotlines need to be amped up, respondents must be deployed with tact and the police have to learn how to answer, with delicacy, to murky calls that do not require an ambush but instead, must be met with calm, swiftness and empathy, such as rescuing someone who is in an abusive home.
According to Relief Web, a humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters, marginalized people become even more vulnerable in emergencies due to factors such as their lack of access to effective surveillance and early-warning systems, and health services. Those who depend heavily on the informal economy, have inadequate access to social services or have limited or no access to technology.
The Inua Dada Foundation supports various groups on the ground and we are learning first hand how difficult it is for vulnerable groups to cope during this pandemic. Mary, who is one of our community champions, explained the challenges faced by a group in one of the country’s informal settlements, which she has supported for years, the majority of whom are deaf. According to Mary, while most of them have an idea of the messaging around coronavirus, most of them are sexually assaulted by relatives who assault them in their homes under the guise of checking on them. She further tells us that they are afraid to venture out of their homes, even if it means looking for a meal, because they don’t understand what’s being said around them, in the community. There are not enough sign language interpreters and those that live in the community are adhering you’re the stay-at-home orders. It’s a double burden on them, Mary explains, because they are carrying the trauma of being assaulted and are also hard pressed to find someone who will check on them and ask if they need anything. We recently sent care packages to some of the families and learnt that some of them hadn’t been able to access basic necessities such as sanitary products, soap or food, for over a month. Without an intentional push by the government to provide every group of citizens with necessities to cushion them, the risk factors multiply and efforts to provide all with healthcare becomes a burden.
Messaging related to the COVID19 guidelines as well as necessary interventions, should be communicated with different groups of people in mind. This requires adequate research and an intersectional approach to combating this disease. But it has to happen now, or we run the risk of seeing a rise in numbers, which could cripple our already burdened health care system.