UNDP joined partners from the Government of Kenya, 14 county governments, the Council of Governors, the County Assemblies Forum, and UN agencies United Nations Volunteers, UNICEF and UN Women in Kajiado County on 1 July to mark the flagging-off of 50 health professionals deployed to 14 counties as UN Volunteers (Photo: Christabel Chanda-Ginsberg/UNDP Kenya)

 

A total of 50 health personnel have been deployed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to 14 counties across Kenya to bolster county-level healthcare systems, an intervention which is part of the UNDP-led Joint UN COVID-19 Response Programme. Recruited in conjunction with UN Volunteers and County Public Service Boards, these professionals will serve as Clinical Officers, Nursing Officers, Public Health Officers, and Laboratory Technicians for an initial period of 6 months.

During each month of their service with UNDP, we are reaching out to these 'rapid responders' to collect their perspectives, experiences and stories of life on the frontlines of Kenya's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and will share these insights here.

The COVID-19 Response Programme was developed from the UN Joint Devolution Programme after development partners Finland, Italy and Sweden consented to remobilizing USD 3.1 million to respond to the pandemic in Kenya. The COVID-19 Response is being implemented by UNDP, UNICEF and UN Women with UNDP playing the coordination role: interventions enacted through the programme will mitigate both the spread and impact of COVID-19 by increasing capacity of the healthcare system, building the resilience of vulnerable populations, bolstering social protections, and advocating for the rights of women.

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Tabitha Shali Mbogho - Nursing Officer

July 2020: My name is Tabitha Shali Mbogho. I am a Nursing Officer and a UN health volunteer currently stationed at Moi Referral Hospital in Voi town, Taita Taveta County.

It has been an exciting experience serving the community…sensitizing and raising their awareness on COVID-19 pandemic on how to keep themselves safe; conducting both targeted and mass testing in the community. One of the challenges I have noted, the community has not yet fully embraced the reality of (the health dangers posed by) COVID-19. Through our regular health talks, I have had an opportunity to educate and help my community better understand what COVID-19 is, how it can affect their health and how to prevent it from spreading in the community.

Being a UNV has presented me a unique and an eye-opening opportunity and a great learning experience. Besides working as a COVID-19 frontline health specialist, I also have access to a wide range of online courses and trainings to better my knowledge and skills through the continuous learning programme. And the constant communication with UNDP through the UNDP/UNV coordinator checking on my wellbeing and providing me with constant updates. I have also attended several virtual meetings with UNDP including with Management and Devolution programme staff.

UNV and UNDP have afforded me a platform to work directly with the community as well as in the hospital in response to COVID-19. The community has been receptive and welcoming, which has led to more open and meaningful conversations on how they can stay safe from COVID-19 and continue with their daily lives uninterrupted.

 

Joseph Orondo Ochilo - Public Health Officer

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.

 

Caroline Njoki Kabaki - Laboratory Technologist

August 2020: My name is Caroline Njoki Kabaki, a Medical Laboratory Technologist and a UN health volunteer attached to the East Africa Community (EAC) Mobile Virology PCR Laboratory at the Namanga One Stop Border Post, Kajiado County.

Namanga is a cosmopolitan town situated at the border of Kenya and Tanzania and serves as an important transit point between Nairobi and Arusha. As a border entry point between the two countries, it is imperative for the continuity of trade to mass screen truck drivers at Namanga to curb cross-border COVID-19 transmissions. The EAC is coordinating to have truck drivers tested and certified at their points of origin before they depart, to keep the borders open and goods moving while ensuring that the citizens are protected. The drivers who test negative are issued with a 14-day COVID-19 free certificate to ease movement.

The EAC Mobile Virology PCR Laboratory is an initiative of the EAC, in collaboration with the German Development Bank and Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine; the Laboratory was set up to complement the existing laboratory network and to strengthen the region’s capacity to diagnose and respond to highly infectious diseases like Ebola and COVID-19. The lab is used for screening of truck drivers at the Border Post and to process samples referred from the many quarantine and isolation centers in Kajiado County.

The majority of the people in Namanga are aware and conscious of COVID-19 and are hence wearing masks and adhering to social distancing. It is encouraging to find restaurants and business premises requiring their clients to wear masks and wash hands at the entrance.

I feel proud to be able to play my crucial part as a UNV and a Medical Laboratory specialist to support my community’s wellbeing through provision of timely and accurate diagnosis.

I am grateful for being part of the diagnostic team that is helping Kenya battle this global pandemic. What keeps me going is the knowledge that our daily work here and that of all UN health fast-responders to COVID-19 will surely flatten the curve of transmission. I am grateful to UNDP, UNV, UNICEF, UN Women and our generous donors for giving us this platform to use our knowledge and skills to combat this pandemic and I am also grateful for having an amazing team of specialists to work with.

 

Joram Kibet Kipkenei - Laboratory Technologist

August 2020: My name is Joram Kibet Kipkenei, a Laboratory Technologist and UN health volunteer. I serve at Kamalel COVID-19 Isolation Centre, Eldoret in Uasin Gishu County.

Uasin Gishu county is in the northern part of the Rift Valley. The climate in Uasin Gishu is warm and temperate. It is a rich agricultural area – part of Kenya’s breadbasket - supporting large-scale grain, horticulture and dairy farming. Eldoret town, the headquarters of the county, is also known as ‘the City of Champions’ because it is home to several national athletes and world track beaters.

Together with my team of fast-responders, we have been conducting COVID-19 community awareness sessions. Mostly holding health talks to long-distance truck drivers when they come for COVID-19 screening and testing at Huruma Reference Laboratory on how one can protect themselves and others from the disease. 

It is encouraging that most people are donning facemasks in social spaces and handwashing facilities have also been setup in markets and shopping centers.

One of the most heartwarming moments of working in my community, was when I helped an abandoned young boy rescued from the streets. The minor, aged about one and half years, could not be admitted to a child rescue home until his COVID-19 status had been established. A policewoman at Central Police Station in Eldoret informed my team of the minor’s predicament – he had lost his mother and had no other known relative. We collected samples from the boy for COVID-19 testing and the results turned negative. The boy has since found shelter at the child rescue and is doing well.

[Working as a COVID-19 UN Volunteer responder deployed by UNDP] is a unique opportunity for me to serve my community and contribute to their wellbeing. 

 

Faith Kwatindi Shamallah - Clinical Officer

September 2020: My name is Faith Kwatindi Shamallah, a Clinical Officer and a UN health volunteer serving at Garissa Referral Hospital in Garissa County.

Garissa is a county in the former North Eastern province and borders Somalia to the east, with Garissa town as its capital and a major urban center. It is one of the warmest regions in Kenya all year round, with residents mostly practicing livestock keeping and trade. Garissa County also hosts the UNHCR-run Dadaab refugee complex and several wildlife conservancies. The Tana River runs near the County's border with Kitui County, and is an important lifeline and water source.

The county has recorded slightly more than 200 of COVID-19 cases since the first case was reported in Kenya in March, with fears the numbers could go higher.

Working as a UNV health specialist has given me the opportunity to sensitize the community on the reality of the disease and the need for them to protect themselves, their loved ones and take the appropriate measures such as wearing their masks while in public. Most of my patients are from the remotest of areas and more than often do not have the relevant information on how they can stay safe from COVID-19. Together with my team of fast responders, we regularly hold health talks at the hospital lobby to reinforce the disease safety protocols.

It is encouraging to see the residents putting facemasks while in public and most shops, mosques and churches have installed handwashing stations, even as the County Department of Health announced a 10-day free mass testing for COVID-19.

As well as being the Referral Hospital for Garissa County, my workplace also serves patients from the neighboring counties of Wajir and Kitui. This has seen the number of patients go up and presents us an opportunity to not only serve them but also to sensitize them on COVID-19.

The most interesting aspect of working here as a UN Volunteer is the immense support I receive from my colleagues and peers. I have had impressive learning and training opportunities both here at the hospital and online, thanks to UNDP. I am most grateful to UNDP for granting me this chance to serve my community during these critical times.

 

Rukia Abdirahman Ibrahim - Public Health Officer

September 2020: My name is Rukia Abdirahman Ibrahim, a Public Health Officer and a UN health volunteer at Bute sub-county Hospital in Wajir County in the Northern Kenya.

Bute town is the main urban center in Wajir North sub-county. Wajir County borders Ethiopia to the north, Mandera County to the northeast, Somalia to the east, Garissa County to the south and, Isiolo County to the west. Like the rest of the Northern Kenya, the climate is tropical, hot, dry and wet seasons. Majority of people here practice nomadic pastoralism, small scale farming and trading.

The people we serve in the sub-county come from neighboring rural villages of Adadijolle, Gurar, Garakillo, Ajawa and Qudama; who most of the times do not have the right information on how they can stay safe from COVID-19. Besides working at the hospital isolation ward, I also carry out health talks and community awareness sessions on COVID-19 to challenge the misconceptions and misinformation about the disease.

The county has thus far recorded more than 30 COVID-19 positive cases and the County Department of health is appealing to residents to come forward for testing and to take necessary precaution to protect themselves against COVID-19.

As a UNV and Public Health Officer, I am instrumental in effecting COVID-19 Ministry of Health/WHO containment guidelines in my community – social distancing, cleanliness of work stations, shops and other public spaces like mosques, and provision of hand washing stations, sanitizers and donning of face masks while in public.

It is a humbling and a great learning experience connecting with residents from the most rural areas of the county on the prevention and control of the spread of the virus. I am thankful for the opportunity UNDP has offered me to serve as a rapid responder to COVID-19 in my community.

 

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