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Frontline workers brave virus to deliver healthcare in Kenya

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2020-05-19 21:25
Kennedy Kipchumba checks on a patient in the maternity wing at his clinic. [Photo by Otiato Opali/]

Healthcare workers in informal settlements in Kenya, which have so far recorded 912 coronavirus cases and 50 deaths, are braving the risk of contracting the coronavirus to deliver critical medical services to slum dwellers in Kenya.

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

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

While appreciating efforts made by the government to fight the virus, Kipchumba, who employs 13 workers at his facility, said that with the pandemic coming unannounced, the government has reached out to them but the promised aid is yet to arrive.

"Government officials have visited my clinic twice and promised to send us personal protective equipment but they are yet to be delivered. We are therefore operating in very risky conditions because this clinic serves the whole slum and in case of an outbreak, we fear that we might be overwhelmed by patients, yet we do not have means to test or treat the virus," Kipchumba said.

Despite the risk, Kipchumba said that his passion for medicine is what keeps him going to work every day. However, he is requesting the government, donors and well-wishers assist establishments like his clinic with masks, sanitizers and funds to enable them to continue providing medical services to the vulnerable during the pandemic.

Kennedy Kipchumba is seen at the entrance of Lengo Medical Clinic in Mukuru Kayaba slum in Nairobi, Kenya. [Photo by Otiato Opali/]

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

He said that he decided to establish his clinic within the slums knowing the risk he was facing, but he was determined to bring help to those who need it most but cannot access it.

"This is the only facility within the slum that offers maternity services and we carry out up to sixty deliveries every month. We have been working for 24 hours even during the pandemic because despite the risk, our services are still critical, this slum depends on us," Kipchumba said.

According to Kipchumba, who established the clinic in 2007, the slums are also hotbeds of substance and drug abuse, and the fact that schools are closed due to the virus puts children at risk of being involved in delinquent behavior.

Kipchumba said that ensuring continued access to health care during the pandemic is the duty of healthcare workers since they are the frontline soldiers in the war against the virus.

"I see the coronavirus pandemic as the litmus test that will separate the wheat from the chaff. Our job is a calling and the pandemic is a challenge to all health workers to put in extra effort because lives depend on us," Kipchumba said.

On May 16 Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta extended the nationwide curfew and the cessation of movement in the counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi and Mandera until June 6 in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The decision was made on the advice of the country's National Emergency Response committee on coronavirus.

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