Female African Community Health Workers Battle Covid-19 With Little Recognition

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[COVID-19\Africa]
Tens of thousands of ordinary African women who, without fanfare, battle the virus in their communities.
Photo: Facebook

Thousands of female African health workers are battling COVID-19 in their communities.

Armed with a face mask, notebook and pen, Everlyne Akinyi Omondi sets out each morning from her one-room home in Nairobi’s informal settlement of Kawangware to do a job few others would contemplate in a pandemic.

As cases of the new coronavirus climb and Kenyans are told to stay home and avoid human contact, 38-year-old Omondi moves house to house through Kawangware’s maze of narrow lanes.

Standing at the doorways of the cramped, corrugated houses, she talks about COVID-19, shows residents how to wash hands or don a mask, patiently answering their questions.

“I know there are risks of contracting the virus, but I don’t feel so scared. I have made a pledge to keep my community safe,” said Omondi, turning to reprimand a group of children crowded around her for not maintaining social distancing rules.

“You see how small and close together the places where we live are. We have to make sure people understand how they can stop corona from spreading. Here, if one person gets it, everyone can.”

The mother of three is not a doctor, nurse or medic of any sort - just one of tens of thousands of ordinary African women who, without fanfare, battle the virus in their communities.

Poorly paid or not at all, these unsung armies of mostly female community health workers have for years doled out advice and health services to families living in remote villages and urban slums who lack formal support.

Recruited and trained by government and charities - they are found from Kenya to Tanzania, Ethiopia to Malawi, Liberia to South Africa - the women go door to door, dispensing advice on everything from family planning to immunizations.

Now, as transmission of the new coronavirus spreads, women like Omondi are essential foot soldiers in the war on COVID-19.

Charities such as Catholic Relief Services, which is supporting coronavirus training for about 5,000 community health volunteers in Kenya, say this workforce is key.

“Community health volunteers are not given the recognition they deserve, but they are important frontline workers. They have a wide range of knowledge and experience from dealing with cholera outbreaks to malaria prevention,” said Moses Orinda, CRS’s senior project officer in Kenya.

“For COVID-19, they have the ability to contact trace, provide support to home-based patients and conduct essential prevention and control activities,” Orinda said.

COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION

The COVID-19 virus has infected close to 10 million people and killed almost half a million worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Initially, the virus multiplied more slowly in Africa than in Asia or Europe, but all 54 nations on the continent are now infected, with more than 330,000 cases and over 8,800 deaths combined, says the African Union’s Centre for Disease Control.

South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria have recorded most cases, but experts say true numbers may be much higher as many nations lack reliable diagnostic or testing capabilities.

With densely-packed slums, poor access to water, widespread disease and weak health systems, many countries will struggle to control the fast-spreading virus, they add.

“For now, Africa still only accounts for a small fraction of cases worldwide,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) Africa director, earlier this month.

“But the pace of the spread is quickening. Swift and early action by African countries has helped to keep numbers low, but constant vigilance is needed to stop COVID-19 from overwhelming health facilities.”

For the rest of this Reuters story log on to:https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coroanvirus-kenya-women-featur...

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