In 2020 when the Coronavirus acutely spread across the globe and had no bias on who to affect and who to leave out - a solid affirmation that the world is interconnected, many organisations and governments came together to find a common solution that would save humanity. Even with privileges accorded to some countries through their efficient health systems, death was inevitable because the phenomenon of the do’s and don’ts prevention were not clear as scientists overworked to get long-term health solutions. For marginalized communities, however, they solely relied on help from humanitarian organisations and their governments.
Refugee communities who fall under this category that is marginalized, faced some of the greater challenges due to their stateless nature and the inequity of resources among them increased their vulnerabilities in the camps. Kenya for example hosts more than 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers, who receive regulated basic needs from integrated efforts steered by UNHCR and the needs are always growing for these families. During the first cases of the pandemic, UNHCR through microdata on assessing the socioeconomic Impact of COVID-19 on forcibly displaced populations in Kenya indicated that there was pandemic induced anxiety among the refugee households as compared to the surrounding communities.
Odhieng Akway Oman a 43-year-old refugee from Ethiopia who came into the country in 2003, first settling in Daadab and moving to Kalobeyei noted that there were so many misconceptions on the virus and whether it was real.
“As one of the elected community leaders here in Kalaobeyei, I interact with so many families and sit in many baraza meetings. When COVID19 started being announced in global media, many of the refugees believed that they were immune from it, they thought it was a western world problem. But when it got to Kenya, most of them did not believe that it was real, until they started hearing cases of people getting the virus and dying. They were fearful and sceptical on whether they would receive support such as getting masks, or increased water supply for their hygiene.” Odhieng Akway Oman.
The panic and worry among refugee families was one concern that Kenya Red Cross first wanted to tackle by increasing its outreaches on facts and myths of the Coronavirus. KRCS mobilized its most invaluable resource - the volunteers to support the implementation of control measures instituted by the government, primarily focusing on the most at-risk members of the community within the refugees and their host communities. When the Ministry of Health started rolling out the COVID19 vaccine, partners such as The Danish Red Cross (DRC) funded Kenya Red Cross to implement interventions geared towards eliminating barriers in access to safe COVID19 vaccination.
“Danish Red Cross with funding from Augustinus Foundation saw it critical to coordinate with Kenya Red Cross to reach communities that are marginalized in Kenya, and one of our major priorities was the refugee population who have many socio-economic needs. Our collaboration with KRCS is also to address misinformation and reduce COVID19 vaccine hesitancy here in the refugee camps and settlements.” Sylvia Khamati, IPCHealth Delegate – Africa, Danish Red Cross.
The support by Danish Red Cross has helped debunk some of the myths being spread within the camps and has seen 4,668 people taking up the vaccine. Currently through the partnership, Kenya Red Cross aims to reach 70% of the 16,430 refugees at Kalobeyei. The department of health in Turkana County has been critical in ensuring a consistent supply of vaccines through the International Rescue Committee vaccine depot and by providing training and technical assistance to Kenya Red Cross health care workers and community health volunteers engaged in the project.
Lydia Kompeo is a Community Health Volunteer (CHV) in Kalobeyei, she came to Kenya from South Sudan in 2016 and has been living in the Kalobeyei refugee settlement with her family. She is part of the group that was trained through the Danish Red Cross funding support and has been a champion of the vaccine uptake being among the first to receive the vaccine in April 2021.
“I had to lead by example. When the vaccine got to the camp, I knew that I had to be among the first to take it because throughout 2020 I was part of the Kenya Red Cross team that conducted sensitization to families on prevention measures. I took the vaccine because there were so many myths that discouraged people from taking it, and as a mother, I knew that if other women saw me taking it, they would not fear or believe the talk around infertility being caused by the vaccine. So far, as we move from one village to the other to talk to people about the vaccine, there is a positive reception and there are days when we can have up to 100 people a day take the vaccine. This is huge progress and I know that by the end of the year, families will be encouraging their members to get the shot.” Lydia Kompeo, Community Health Volunteer, Kalobeyei.
Motivating news from the refugee camps on vaccine uptake are spreading, and even as everyone celebrates this milestone, we are not there yet! It is worth noting that continued support for these minorities needs to be scaled up. The pandemic has proved that necessities such as access to water, sanitation systems and health facilities are critical for the survival of humanity.
By Senior Communications Officer, Kenya Red Cross Society, Corazon (Corrie) Mwende