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Crowded Slums Pose Challenge as Kenya Braces for Coronavirus

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VOA 18 MAR 2020

NAIROBI – Kenyan authorities reported three new coronavirus cases Wednesday — a couple from Spain and a Burundian who came from the United Arab Emirates. The country now has a total of seven cases.

No cases have been reported in Nairobi’s Kibera section yet, but residents of the vast slum are concerned as the crowded living quarters would make it difficult to fight the deadly virus if it begins to spread there. 

Hezbon Kodek, who lives alone in a single room in Kibera, says poor hygiene compounds the problem. 
 
“We have a pit latrine, but the neighbors — we are more than 100 rooms sharing one toilet,” he said. “It’s a bit complex. And more so you find that the water, there is a problem with water. Sometimes on Fridays there is no water. It’s a bit complex.”

Sylvester Okoth, a 33-year-old father of two, lives in a single room with his family. He says they are trying to do everything possible to be safe from the virus. 

Children learn how to wash hands for prevention of the COVID-19 as local NGO Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) installs…
Children learn how to wash their hands to help prevent COVID-19 as local NGO Shining Hope for Communities installs hand-washing stations at Kibera slum in Nairobi, March 18, 2020.

“I have left to God, but on the cleanliness part, we are trying to wash our hands and the place we sleep,” he said. “We keep it clean. On the shared bathroom and toilet as people who share, we decided to make sure all of us take the initiative to keep them clean and keep the environment clean.” 

Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe says they are taking measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease in crowded areas like Kibera. 


 
“We have got a team in the Ministry of Health that is going to start going ’round within those slum areas so that they can be able to talk to them and tell them what to do and tell them how to behave,” Kagwe said. “These are the areas we are saying that we are asking the county government to take serious measure as far as cleanliness is concerned. We are also asking the ministry of water, and they are assisting us to do so to ensure that these areas have water.” 


 
Witnesses in Kibera say they have received leaflets educating the residents on the coronavirus.

But Kodek says he took issue with one particular recommendation. 
 
“Stay home as much as possible. But how can we stay at home when you need food to put in your mouth?” he said. “That’s the question we ask ourselves. How can you stay? So this thing is pandemic, and it’s going to kill all of us. How can you stay at home when there is no food?”
 
Among Kenya’s neighbors, Somalia, Ethiopia and Tanzania have reported cases of the virus. There are more than 500 reported cases across the continent, with the only death so far in Burkina Faso.  

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