August 2020: My name is Joseph Orondo Ochilo, a Public Health Specialist and UN health volunteer at Kisumu County Referral Hospital in Kisumu County in western Kenya.
The capital of Kisumu, Kisumu City, is an inland port city on Lake Victoria. We have a tropical climate here – hot and dry and wet seasons. Most of the people I serve live in informal settlements like Obunga, Nyalenda, Manyatta, Kondele, Kibuye and Jubilee Market in Kisumu Central Sub-county. The main economic activities here are fishing, trade, carpentry and construction.
What I already know about the residents of Kisumu Central is that they are taking the issue of COVID-19 very lightly. There are many urban myths and social stigma abound the disease; that it is mostly affecting the elderly and affluent in the society. Hence, the youth are not sticking to wearing facemasks, frequently sanitizing and social distancing while in public spaces. Stigma around COVID-19 is making people to fear getting tested and complicating the contact tracing process in cases where a person tests positive.
My being there as a UN health volunteer and as a Public Health practitioner is making a difference in various ways. I am actively involved in effecting public health regulations and compliance to COVID-19 protocols. Notably, inspection, fumigation and clearance of hotels, churches, restaurants and markets; as well as, public service vehicles in compliance to COVID-19 regulations of social distancing, handwashing facilities, and display of posters having COVID-19 prevention messages. Through our community sensitization and outreach programs we are training youth in informal settlements to become sanitization champions on COVID-19 prevention and screening. Moreover, I am also involved in contact tracing and extraction of positive cases from the community and dispatching them to quarantine and isolation centers.
I have observed with time, and with the rising cases of COVID-19 and the intensification of COVID-19 community outreach messaging, a behavioral change. Kisumu people are slowly taking up wearing of facemasks every time while in public. The number of people carrying their own personal hand sanitizers in has also risen. Hand washing facilities have been installed at strategic places and in all business premises and eateries, thanks to UNICEF for supporting local markets with hand sanitizers, bar soaps and handwashing points.
The most rewarding thing about my job is that I feel that I’m fully giving back to the community as a Public Health Specialist. Reaching out and sensitizing my community on the basics of handwashing, cough etiquette and empowering them with information about COVID-19 prevention and general hygiene to save lives, is so fulfilling. I am grateful to UNDP and UNV for giving me this opportunity to serve my community.
As we win the war against COVID-19 pandemic, we need to destigmatize the disease. Some people, out of fear of contracting COVID-19 from hospitals have shied away when they really need proper medical attention thus complicating their medical conditions. There is a growing need to involve the youth in all health messaging and programs on COVID-19 to bolster efforts to flatten the curve. Besides, there is also need to embark on testing of both the public and health workers to improve on the disease prevention and management at community level.