Prevention is a Possibility in the Fight Against the Coronavirus in Uganda’s Slums of the Urban Poor

Date 20.05.2020

Rita Nassali has been working for Kamwokya Christian Caring Community (KCCC), a civil society organization in one of Kampala City’s densely populated slums for more than five years now. KCCC is AVSI’s Implementing Partner: the organization supports 200 children under the Distance Support Program. When the Ugandan Government announced the first positive case of the Coronavirus on March 22nd, Rita’s first thought went to the vulnerable children supported in Kamwokya.

A number of measures undertaken by Government, including the 14-day lockdown to enforce “social distancing” sounded like an impossibility to shield the urban slum dwellers from the disease. To make matters worse, clean water and soap is scarce "How then will the children and their families protect themselves from this virus?" is the question that bothered Rita’s mind if their safety was to be managed in an environment that lacks running water or toilets, and where majority of the people have to go to work on a daily basis if their families are to have a meal.

Rita and the medical team at the health clinic managed by KCCC knew that there was little time available for them to find preventive methods. They quickly reached as many families as they could with the disease prevention messages as they hung posters inside the health facility, spoke with families in their local languages and reinforced their abilities to identify symptoms of the Coronavirus when they participated in a training organized by the organization. This gave them a sigh of relief since they would now identify the symptoms of the virus and make referrals to the nearest Government Hospital.

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The challenge was far from over. Rita and her colleagues still had to encourage parents and children to adopt another good practice of frequent hand washing, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds! Skeptical of what her team would meet on their second home visits, Rita was astonished when what welcomed her was locally made gallons of water hanging close to each house with a piece of soap for hand washing.

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A few days later, she received a phone call that “there is a suspected case of Coronavirus here in Kamwokya!” seeking her advice on what next steps to be taken. The suspected case was of a person who had returned from Europe but the inhabitants did not feel safe to welcome him in their midst because they felt it was a risk to their lives.

Despite the strict protocol that awaited her to handle the case in total safety, Rita was happy because the prevention messages had reached the community and they now knew the importance of vigilance and embraced collaboration in the global fight against the contagious virus.

Rita’s story reminds us of how the strength of working with people through our implementing partners is one efficient way of reaching the last mile, and the power of building strong partnerships.