By Stephen Macharia
People living in Central Kenya and adjacent areas are at a higher risk of developing severe Covid-19 symptoms and even death than those in other parts of the country, a study of social and epidemiological vulnerability to coronavirus disease has found.
According to the KEMRI Wellcome Trust study, the regions suffer from a high population of people living with underlying health conditions, risk factors of Covid-19 symptoms or death.
“Sub-counties in central, south-east and parts of western Kenya where approximately 7.2 million people reside were the most vulnerable prevalence of hypertension, smoking, and HIV,” the study found out.
Despite these findings, the government has relaxed containment measures previously put in place to curb spread of Covid-19, setting pace for a phased reopening of the economy.
“I order and direct that the cessessation of movement in and out of Nairobi metropolitan area, Mombasa County and Mandera County shall lapse,” President Uhuru Kenyatta announced to the nation in early July.
The order by the President meant people in Covid-19 hotspot areas could now travel to the rural areas without restrictions, raising fears the disease may spread to rural parts of Kenmya where a majority of elderly people live.
The Kemri-Wellcome Trust study warns : “ sub counties in central Kenya and its adjacent areas have a high proportion of urban communities and predominance of single parents. These areas are at risk of increased transmissions and house communities that are less resilient to hence will suffer disproportionately from long term impacts of the Covid-19.”
The study also found that a significant number of people in central region have lost jobs and are exposed to food insecurity.
Other than the economic vulnerability, the communities living in central and northwestern Kenya “have poor geographic access to healthcare services,” the study, prepared by Dr Emelda Okiro, Peter Macharia and Noel Joseph reads in part.
Announcing roll back of containment measures previously implemented to curb the spread of the Covid-19, President Kenyatta called on Kenyans to exercise individual responsibility in observing protective measures to stop its spread.
The most vulnerable counties are Mombasa, Lamu, Nyeri, Embu, Taita Taveta, Kitui, Kirinyaga, Siaya, Makueni and Nakuru.
“Forty six sub-counties in the central and surrounding areas, south east and parts of western Kenya are the most vulnerable,” the study found.
The study recommends several measures to mitigate community vulnerability to Covid-19. They include; building temporary health facilities in populated areas, improved water and sanitation and increased awareness for proper hygiene.
The researchers assessed the counties using a score of over 20 indicators including household poverty, population of the elderly, health workforce per capita, access to health services, population, and proximity to urban centers among others.
To contain the pandemic, the study calls for context based measures noting “ pandemics disproportionately populations with greater impacts on the most vulnerable and less resilient communities.”
Kenya should adapt “more context public health measures that reflect” the needs of the “most vulnerable and their geographical location.”
The study says Kenya suffers from significant health, socioeconomic, demographic and epidemiological disparities.
However, fighting Covid-19 calls for “understanding the most vulnerable, where the disease is likely to spread fast, and where interventions like social distancing may be necessary.”