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Frontline workers defy risks to help Kenya's poor

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-24 11:08
A Kenyan health worker takes an oral swab from a resident during a mass testing exercise for the coronavirus in Nairobi on Wednesday. SIMON MAINA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Healthcare workers are putting the safety of others first by providing vital medical services to residents of Kenya's slums as the coronavirus makes deeper inroads into the country.

At the Lengo Medical Clinic in Nairobi's Mukuru Kayaba slum, Kennedy Kipchumba, the clinic's chief executive and founder, said slum dwellers are among the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

Although the government has spelled out social distancing rules, "the people in this community do not have food and depend on daily wages to survive", Kipchumba said. "That is why they cannot stay at home," he said.

The East African country has recorded more than 1,100 coronavirus cases and at least 50 deaths.

Crowded housing in the slums adds to the difficulties faced by medical providers in trying to keep the residents safe amid the pandemic.

"Most houses are crammed together, with up to 10 people living in one-room houses, creating a precarious situation should we have an outbreak in the slum," said Kipchumba, who established the Lengo clinic in 2007.

While he said he appreciates the efforts made by the government to combat the virus, Kipchumba is still waiting on supplies at his clinic, which has 13 workers.

"Government officials have visited my clinic twice and promised to send us personal protective equipment, but they are yet to be delivered," he said. "We are therefore operating in very risky conditions, because this clinic serves the whole slum.

"In the event of an outbreak, we fear that we might be overwhelmed by patients. Yet we do not have the means to test for or treat people with the virus."

Resident Ethren Lungazo, taking her son to the clinic, said she has depended on the facility for years and is relieved it is still providing services during the pandemic.

"My son complained about a stomach ache and Lengo clinic was my first stop. We cannot afford private hospitals, and the government hospitals are not available in our locality," Lungazo said.

As for Kipchumba, the motivation to serve is simple. "My grandparents used to treat people using traditional herbs, and that is why I fell in love with medicine at a young age," he said. "As health workers, we are driven by the passion to heal, and as people run away from the coronavirus, health workers have to run toward it in order to confront it."

He said the Lengo clinic is the only facility in the slum that provides maternity services.

"We carry out up to 60 deliveries every month. We have been working for 24 hours a day even during the pandemic, because despite the risk, our services are still critical," he said.

"Our job is a calling, and the pandemic is a challenge to all health workers to put in the extra effort because lives depend on us."

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