Welcome back. Today I am writing about the number one topic of discussion – Coronavirus!
What most people in the Global North are now experiencing for the first time and in a relatively mild form is part of everyday life for many in the Global South: the juggling of multiple, existential crises. Extreme social rifts and medical care as a luxury good only for the rich. This is, in very broad terms, the starting position in that part of the world which – after China and the global North – now expects a massive spread of the Coronavirus.
The Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, made an urgent appeal: Africa must wake up and prepare for the worst. Easier said than done. After all, a large proportion of the measures that are used here in a fundamental and effective way to combat the Coronavirus cannot be implemented in many developing countries, including Kenya.
In Kenya, and in many African countries in general, there is a lethal combination of weak to non-existent health systems, limited financial resources and inhabitants with a poor immune system. There is already a lack of doctors and medical equipment in many countries. And many Africans cannot afford medicines, let alone hospitalisation.
There are still comparatively few corona infections in Kenya, but according to experts, this is a ticking time bomb. The Kenyan government is taking drastic measures, such as closing schools and universities. But basic advice on how to avoid infection is already coming to nothing in view of the poverty and shortage in many places. So, all the prevention measures that we are now so familiar with in the global North sound absurd in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Let’s put on the infrastructure lens to see why this is so.
A very useful and inexpensive protective measure in the Global North is washing hands. However, for many people in Nairobi’s informal settlements, this is only possible with difficulty or perhaps not at all. As you might assume from reading my previous blog entries, this is because inhabitants don’t have uncomplicated access to running water and soap. Hence, the hygiene measures adopted by the Kenyan government often fail because water and soap are in short supply, particularly in informal settlements. Even disinfectants, which the government recommends when water is not available, have become unaffordable for most people in Nairobi’s informal settlements, at least since the first case of corona became known.
And social distancing in Nairobi’s informal settlements, where six or eight people live in one room? A thing of impossibility! People cannot keep enough distance from each other. As the majority doesn’t have their own cars, public transport in the form of Matatus is the only means of transport. And social distancing on public transport is not possible either. From my own experience, I can say that a small bus with a capacity of 12 people can easily carry 20 people. One doesn’t know when the next bus will leave again. Have a look at this picture of a Matatu.
With the spread of the Coronavirus, incomes will fall drastically for inhabitants of Nairobi’s informal settlements. For many, this would immediately threaten their existence. If they cannot go out to work, they remain hungry. The vast majority of inhabitants in Nairobi’s informal settlements work in the informal sector, i.e. without any social security. The informal sector is likely to come to a virtual standstill with the rigid measures taken to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.
Have a watch at this video, dealing with the Coronavirus in Kibera.
For all their crisis-prone nature, countries of the global South have made significant progress in recent decades in combating poverty and epidemics, and some have good early warning systems. Many African countries, marked by the Ebola epidemic between 2014 and 2016, had already introduced health checks at their borders when Europe was still raving about “scare tactics”. And in many countries, success has been achieved in recent years in the fight against the three big “killers”: tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS.
What I didn’t tell you in the beginning, this was my last blog post on a specific topic. Next week, we have to say goodbye. But you can look forward to a summary of topics I have discussed, and you have hopefully enjoyed reading about in the last weeks. Until then, stay healthy!
Featured image: Chiba, Y. (2020) Corona in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Retrieved from https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/panorama/erst-masern-jetzt-auch-noch-corona/25661874.html
Mutongi, K. (2017). Matatu in Nairobi’s informal settlements. Retrieved from https://globalurbanhistory.com/2018/07/31/reading-the-city-from-the-streets/