Practical Action: Ramping up covid-19 prevention in Kisumu’s low-income settlements

Practical Action: Ramping up covid-19 prevention in Kisumu’s low-income settlements

The challenges of taking action to limit the spread of the coronavirus in low income and slum communities are huge. Families are often squeezed into a single room, toilets and water points are shared, and there is a lack of easy access to soap and a place to wash hands. Most families rely on earning money from day to day. As our UTC on the Basic Services Gap explored (webstory, recording), the pandemic has shone a light on the poor levels of access to basic services in urban slum communities and has added urgency to tackling this. 


Practical Action has long-standing work and partnerships in Kisumu, Kenya, with communities, the County Government and local organization KUAP (Kisumu Urban Apostolate Programs). We were already working on long-term, systemic actions to improve access to clean water, safe sanitation and to increase handwashing when the pandemic struck. We are coming from a starting point where, on average 7-8 families were sharing toilets of which as much as half (50% in Obunga settlement) were described as dirty, filled up, or partly collapsed (Baseline survey of December 2016). Access to hand washing facilities was also difficult so that over a quarter reported not washing hands before eating, and close to half reported not washing hands before preparing food. An important minority of households (between 13% in one settlement up to 30% in another) could not demonstrate that they had a handwashing basin with soap in their household when asked (our survey of 2018).


Our global response to the covid-19 pandemic in urban slum and low income communities has three prongs:

  1. Limiting the spread, through behaviour change messaging, accessing safe water and hygiene products
  2. Keeping essential services running through supporting key workers in supply chains and ensuring access to PPE and hygiene products for sanitation and waste workers
  3. Supporting long term recovery to emerge with a ‘new normal’ so that communities have sustained access in the long term to handwashing facilities and improved, safe, reliable water and sanitation.

We know much of this has been made even more difficult by the heavy rain and flooding experienced in Kisumu County in recent days.

We have needed to adapt our work comply with lockdown measures and social distancing rules. Our Regional Director Farida Aliwa explains how we have been working and some of the challenges in this short video.

Some of our immediate actions have included packaging and disseminating accurate behavior change communication (BCC) on hand and respiratory hygiene. Messaging on handwashing, social distancing, transmission, facts & myths and prevention have been translated to Dholuo and Turkana languages.  Together with the English versions, these messages are being relayed on social media, roadside banners and posters and painting of wall murals at shopping centers, borehole areas and community health facilities.

Secondly, we have supported the donation and distribution of 200 liters of liquid handwashing soap to residents in Obunga settlement, plus another 200 liters to the County Government for them to distribute. This will help to bridge the gap as longer term solutions are developed.

Thirdly, through a partnership with Kotex Kenya, we have received and distributed 200 boxes of sanitary towels. We used the results of a mapping and vulnerability assessment of 1,400 households to ensure these reached the most vulnerable girls and women. These were given out as part of the celebration of Menstrual Hygiene Day on 20th May.

We are delighted that these donations will go a long way in helping young girls and women in low income communities to survive this pandemic; where access to essential services such as sanitary towels has been limited.” Farida Aliwa, Regional director Practical Action East Africa

The first recommendation from our UTC on the basic services gap was that a key to managing this disease will be how well municipalities are able to work with community groups. Mr Peter Ogwell from Kisumu County Public Health Department noted that their work has been made easier by the connections with the community that have been facilitated and developed over time by organisations like Practical Action and KUAP. They have been able to mobilise, get messages to people, and understand immediate needs by connecting with a wide network of community health volunteers, chiefs and local sanitation champions.

Our short term actions are playing a vital part in limiting the spread of the disease. We aim to be able to move on soon to focus on ensuring long term gains in access to hand hygiene, clean, reliable water, and safe sanitation for all.

Article by Lucy Stevens
Photo credits: Practical Action (CC)