You may remember that in January we announced the winner of the Community Hero Award, Elizabeth Akinyi Obiero, leader of LCA’s HIV, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Integrated Program (HAWI).
As of today, there have been 384 confirmed cases in the country and cases are sent to national treatment centers, but we are confident that Lwala Community Alliance, LCA, will be able to lead their community out of the pandemic.
Like much of the world, Kenya has imposed regulations to try to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 including restricted travel, no sitting in restaurants, and social distancing. Also like much of the world, there is a shortage of necessary supplies to address and prevent the disease, especially PPE (personal protection equipment).
LCA’s team has had to adjust to the situation too, with everyone now working from home (except for hospital staff) and trying to encourage each other despite any anxieties they may have. Their Managing Director, Julius Mbeya, is stationed in the capital of Nairobi so that he can participate in the National Response Committee which is tasked with community outreach to share accurate and essential information.
LCA is working closely with the Ministry of Health and following its sensitization recommendations while trying to reach every part of the country.
LCA has adjusted its priorities to try to support staff who are exposed to the virus, and other community members who are at risk. Even though community health workers with underlying conditions or anxiety about their risk have been given the option of opting out of service, all 300 of them have stated they would like to stay on to help the 90,000 people LCA serves, each taking on 50-100 households. LCA is trying to ensure they have all the PPE and training they need to stay healthy and continue to do their jobs out in the field while following national protocols. All community activities that involve gatherings have been suspended although they continue to offer essential healthcare.
Due to social distancing protocols, the organization is trying to ensure that all HIV-positive clients have the supplies they need and are adhering to their treatment and medication. Clients are being given 3 to 6 months of their antiretroviral medications according to government recommendations to reduce the number of times they have to come to the health facility, thereby reducing overall traffic at health centers.
LCA is placing WASH at the center of their efforts, emphasizing the importance that every household has access to a tippy tap (handwashing station), soap, and water.
They are in the process of equipping community support groups to make soap, helping to ensure that families in their community can have access to a 3 month supply. They are also trying to implement handwashing stations in all public facilities, local markets, and community centers.
As to community outreach, LCA has been happy to report the overall support of their messaging and that there have been no verified cases in their region as of yet. They are still working with households to see what their needs are and figuring out how to communicate and monitor activity through communications like radio and text messaging. Due to the precautions, LCA staff are wearing masks and enforcing distance between people – this goes against the cultural greeting habits and patients have said this is not the Lwala they know, but so far all of the drastic measures they have had to take have been successful. The team is working hard to help people understand the importance of temporarily forgoing cultural norms like handshaking and hugging, to help avoid the spread of the virus. Once people understand, they appreciate the efforts being made.
As LCA strives to support their community, make sure everyone can stay consistent with their medication, and no one is without food, they say it is time to “stand with the very people we support to be able to overcome this together.” Julius asked for prayers for LCA and Kenya since their national health system isn’t where it needs to be to cope with the coronavirus even though they have known devastating epidemics before.
He also says that there is hope because we can work together as God’s children to do our best to help one another, “Blood:Water has been there with us since the beginning…we continue to remain very grateful for your support, and we’ve never doubted for a moment that we have friends in you. So thank you so much.”