With several months into a global pandemic, the novel Covid-19 has left us with shared lessons and reflections. For countries in the global south, particularly those in Africa, it has further shone light on existing deficits in basic health-care infrastructure, highlighted inequalities along the lines of accessing adequate housing, all bringing concerns for most of its vulnerable population during this public health crisis.
For most urban areas in Africa, slums and informal settlements exist from a dire effect of unequal access to formal housing which is largely unaffordable for the low-income populace. With increased rural-urban migration arising from economic compulsions, forced migration and search for better opportunities, people often don’t mind settling for the available makeshift housing options in the city.
Like they say, once you have got a roof over your head, you can survive. But settling in a slum or informal settlement within a city and in such a time like this comes with a cost. Across the continent, residents of slums informal settlements are already facing lingering challenges such as living under threats of evictions or even forced evictions arising from gentrification, access to development (i.e. clean water, energy supply, primary health care, etc.) and a lopsided urban governance framework that disregards their growing needs.
Despite these odds, residents of these communities have over the years initiated models that help sustain their livelihoods. This largely happens through a participatory planning process for community development. For instance, in Nigeria, the Nigerian slum and informal settlement federation (a grass-root movement of the urban poor in Lagos) coordinates community-level saving groups, community led profiling, enumeration to generate data for the planning of their community development and slum upgrading.
Similarly, in Kenya, the Muugano wa wanavijiji (Kenyan federation of slum dwellers) considers the improvement and integration of slums into the city’s fabric. In Muugano, the federation is also driven by a community savings scheme where community members collectively save for rainy days and do not rely on external support to sustain their efforts. These daily life customary patterns have historically demonstrated independence, resourcefulness and innovation among slums and informal settlement communities. The question then arises, how much more during a public health crisis ? Slum and informal settlement communities can easily adopt their own models to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Nigeria, the Nigerian slum and informal settlement federation (a grass-root movement of the urban poor in Lagos) coordinates community-level saving groups, community led profiling, enumeration to generate data for the planning of their community development and slum upgrading
Covid-19 measures and interventions in African countries should be designed to employ multiple preventive approaches and strategies which are inclusive of populations from grass-root fronts and not just a one-size-fits-all central or national response, which are mostly driven by the central governments of each African state. With an estimated population of over 26 million residents, medical testing and attention for Covid-19 patients in Lagos is commonly provided at designated government health centers & hospitals.
Isolation centers are set up typically at areas out of reach for residents of slums and informal settlements. For a city with a huge population, Lagos could only boast of eight isolation centers with a 547 bed capacity as at May 2020. It suffices to say that a possible community spread in a clustered slum and informal settlement setting could be risky and potentially presents to us the chances of having an overwhelmed health system across African urban-cities. In view of this, slums and informal settlement communities must be adequately prepared to handle this health crisis on their own. Some of the measures that can be put in place include:
Recruitment and training of local health volunteers
Recruiting and arming local health volunteers with the knowledge, science, trends and changing patterns of the virus is a right step. These volunteers could in turn be workers on the front line or community health educators bringing increased awareness about the virus to their communities. Needless to say, these sensitization programs must meet all African native language differences. More importantly, government and grass-root organizations can also step up with help & support.
Covid-19 measures and interventions in African countries should be designed to employ multiple preventive approaches and strategies including those coming from grass-root fronts and not just a one-size-fits-all central or national response
Setting up Isolation Centers
Since slums and informal settlement residents are more prone to contracting the virus because of its clustered setting, there is an urgent need to set up isolation centers in these communities to manage Covid-19 patients. With a successful savings scheme, slums residents together with their various organized leaderships can finance & provide makeshift isolation centers to manage its Covid-19 patients. Siting well-spaced designated areas for this, together with an existing local health force ready to work, are some of the ways of getting prepared.
Setting up handwashing stations
As recommended by the World Health Organization, regular hand washing is one way of keeping safe from Covid-19. Despite having difficulties in accessing clean water, young people in slum communities like Mathare in Kenya have been setting up hand washing stations for its residents to encourage Covid-19 related hygienic practices. These incentives should be replicated in other communities across Africa.
Combating myths and misinformation about Covid-19 through increased orientation
With possible literacy barriers, some residents in slums and informal settlement communities are still in doubt of the existence of this dreadful virus. Beyond living in ignorance, myths and rapid misinformation spreading across these communities only represent a huge obstacle towards dealing with Covid-19 at a community level. All hands in these communities must be on deck to combat myths and misinformation through increased awareness about the virus. Increased awareness could include distribution of filers containing information on preventive measures, rapid production of local face masks, radio sensitization and jiggles carried on in English, French and other African languages.
Beyond living in ignorance, myths and rapid misinformation spreading across these communities only represent a huge obstacle towards dealing with Covid-19 at a community level
For urban cities in Africa, approaches in managing Covid-19 must not be rigid, but must be flexible to adopt systems that meets the realities of the vulnerable population. For slums and informal settlement communities, a traditional knowledge-based approach in fighting Covid-19 is key and must be encouraged. Lastly, while these communities are advised to get prepared, it is time for African governments to prioritize the provision of basic human rights of water, health-care, sanitation and adequate housing in these slums and informal settlements.
Source photo : Climate change news