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WorldServe Kenya Director Unpacks COVID-19 Effects Throughout Africa

As the world grapples with the horrific realities of COVID-19, our wish for strength and persistence goes out to all humanity. We recognize the effect of the pandemic not only in the communities that we serve, but also on our partners who have so generously supported our work over the years. In the past few weeks, the importance of clean water has surged into perspective; we take solace in knowing that we are able to increase access to clean water, an essential global need. With hand washing emphasized as the most powerful weapon against COVID-19, the understanding that communities cannot rely on hand washing without a safe and sustainable water supply is now clearly understood. 

In Africa, as of April 9th, 2020, there have been more than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 52 countries, and more than 500 confirmed deaths. It should be noted that Africa was one of the last regions to register a confirmed COVID-19 case and the continent waits with bated breath to see what will happen in the coming days. The dynamics surrounding the spread of COVID-19 makes the matter very complicated and frightening. Africa’s health systems are already overstretched and there is very little room to absorb this pandemic. The continent has a high prevalence of malnutrition, anemia, Malaria, HIV/AIDs, and Tuberculosis. We should therefore anticipate that in Africa, a higher incidence of severe forms of COVID-19 will occur in younger patients because of the demographics and associated endemic conditions that affect the immune system. This makes it very different from other parts of the world where severe cases of COVID-19 have mostly been reported among the elderly population. In addition to dealing with these infectious diseases, health systems in Africa are also facing non-communicable diseases, including injuries and cancer. The ability to treat severe forms of COVID-19 will depend on the availability of ventilators, electricity, and oxygen, which are all very scarce in Africa. 

The overall strategic approach in Africa should focus on containment and aggressive preventive measures. Early and aggressive physical distancing and frequent hand-washing will be the most effective and affordable interventions for the continent. In Kenya, the government has confirmed 225 cases with 10 deaths as of April 15, 2020.  The government has subsequently suspended all international flights. A 3-week ban on movement in and out of four main coronavirus-infected countries and the capital city, Nairobi, is in place and gatherings of any nature have been outlawed. Congested dwellings, especially in slums of Nairobi and other urban centers, pose a major risk in the spread of the disease. A complete lockdown as seen in other parts of the world would lead to serious social and economic challenges including loss of livelihoods and an increase in crime. The government subsidies to affected communities will not suffice and this could lead to increased incidences of crime.

Inadequate water supply, particularly in densely populated slums and in the arid and semi-arid lands, continues to pose a serious challenge in controlling the spread of the disease mainly because it hampers hand-washing and results in the occurrence of water-borne disease. The occurrence of water-borne diseases further weakens immunity and puts further stress on the already weakened health system. Over the years, WorldServe Kenya has changed the reality for many communities by increasing their access to clean water; this puts them in a better position to face this monstrous pandemic. In this difficult time when the world is locking down in desperation and people are staying indoors to avoid further spread of COVID-19, WorldServe Kenya stands in solidarity with the families in many villages whose source of clean, safe water is over 5 miles away. We are committed to alleviating the suffering for the many women who have to trek this distance daily in search of water. We are particularly focused on providing water, soap, and detergents that are needed to control and eventually eradicate the virus. With the goodwill and support from our generous partners, we shall continue increasing access to safe water in 2020 and beyond.

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