Globally, multiple disasters have negatively impacted the health and nutrition status of the vulnerable groups. In Kenya, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic as reported by the Ministry of Health in 2020 resulted in the decline in key health indicators in immunization, family planning, skilled deliveries and nutrition services attributed to fear of communities contracting COVID -19 at the healthcare facilities. In Baringo County, the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with drought shocks severely disrupted life-saving healthcare services. This was escalated by the conflict between neighbouring communities that threatened the safety and security of the residents in Baringo County bordering, Turkana County.
Nurse Angela Cherop from Chesawach Unit administers an immunization to under five in the presence of Project Manager Linnet Achieng’ during an integrated outreach in Tiaty West.
To control the insecurity, the Government introduced a 6 pm to 6 am curfew in the county. With security presence heightened, several roadblocks were mounted on major roads in the area to limit the movement of people. Some community water points were vandalized, and schools and health facilities were closed due to insecurity. Children under the age of five, pregnant and lactating mothers and persons living with disabilities in hard-to-reach areas had limited access to much-needed life-saving interventions.
In Tiaty West, the nearest health facility is the Chemolingot sub-county hospital located over 75km away from the Chesawach community. The restriction of movements, long-distance and harsh terrain made it difficult for expectant and lactating mothers, the elderly and children under the age of five to access the only healthcare facility. 28-year-old Shwokoi Lotuiichum from Chesawach Village, Akoret location located in Tiaty West, Baringo County shared some of the challenges she faced in accessing life-saving services. For 9-months, Shwokoi relied on traditional medicine and inadequate diets that exposed her and her two children to malnutrition.
“Accessing the nearest healthcare facility in my village requires time and resources. As a mother of two under five, the harsh terrain and the fear of insecurity discouraged me from seeking healthcare services. The closing down of businesses also affected my income which was made worse by the ongoing drought. My children lacked food, I lost so much weight resulting to malnutrition.”
— Shwokoi Lotuiichum.
Volunteer Joel Kimutai issuing plumpy Nut to beneficiary Shwokoi Lotuiichum from Chesawat Village during a medical outreach in Akoret Location, Tirioko ward, Tiaty West.
Emergencies affecting livelihoods such as the ongoing drought in Baringo County call for urgent targeted interventions to save lives. Kenya Red Cross Society through support from UNICEF has been responding to the current drought in 21 ASAL counties, through the Nutrition Early Action for Scalable Response in Emergencies project. The project’s goal is to sustain the gains of the previous intervention by rapidly increasing the access to health and nutrition services in hard-to-reach areas of communities affected by drought.
Through the integrated medical outreach services, vulnerable community members have been reached with life-saving interventions including; treatment of basic illness, immunization, family planning services, Antenatal care services, nutrition assessments for children under five, pregnant and lactating women, Outpatient therapeutic programme services, increasing community awareness of epidemic-related emergencies, key household hygiene practices and building resilience of health systems and community systems to drought shocks.
“The medical services brought near our village encouraged my household to go for a routine check-up. I took all my two children to be weighed and monitored for acute malnutrition. During the outreach, my under-weight children received plumpy nuts to boost their nutrition. I also received teachings on good nutrition, and the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine to protect against severe illness from the virus,” affirmed Shwokoi Lotuiichum.
Project Officer, Lydia Chebii and community health volunteers monitor the weight and length of a child during integrated outreach in Nasorot community unit, Tiaty East, Baringo county.
In Chesawach village, men were reluctant to attend medical outreaches populated by myths about the COVID-19 vaccine. Nutrition Project Officer, Lydia Chebii noted Kenya Red Cross has been working closely with Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) and the Area chief to encourage all community members to continuously visit the outreaches for routine checkups.
“At the start of the outreaches, we realized men were not in full attendance due to the myths and misconceptions on the COVID-19 vaccine. The drought shocks also forced them to work twice as hard to feed their households. The CHVs have been instrumental in conducting door-to-door visits encouraging men to accompany their wives and children. In today’s outreach, we have noticed an increase in men's participation also supported by area chief intervention. They have refused to be left behind in attaining a healthy community.”
— Project Officer Lydia Chebii.
Tiaty West Sub-County Nutrition Coordinator Dan Nyambaja sensitize Chesawach community members on health and nutrition.
Since 2013, Kenya Red Cross has been at the forefront of providing integrated nutrition services to prevent and reduce mortality for vulnerable populations in emergencies. Strengthening the capacity for delivery of integrated management of acute malnutrition services has been the Society’s core mandate. According to Kenya Red Cross Nutrition Manager-Linnet Achieng, through integrated health and nutrition outreaches, Kenya Red Cross in partnership with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health has monitored the nutritional status of children under-five years, screened pregnant and lactating women for malnutrition, provided support for distribution of Ready To Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to health facilities and sensitised community members on good nutrition and COVID-19 preventive measures. The project has also enhanced the capacity of Community Health Volunteers and caregivers on nutrition surveillance through the FAMILY MUAC approach, trained GOK health care workers on the IMAM surge approach and Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition. Strengthening response coordination at the county and sub-county level has been key in ensuring effective and efficient use of available resources.
Written by: Martha Awino - PR and Communication