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Rising to the challenge of coronavirus in Kenya

Farida Bulhan-Aliwa, our Regional Director for East Africa, updates us from Kenya, where coronavirus is now spreading. And we have a special video message from our team in Sudan. 

Coronavirus is beginning to take hold in Kenya, with 34,000 cases and 580 deaths.

No lockdown has been implemented yet, but there is a night-time curfew, as well as restrictions on movement into and out of many counties. Schools, bars, places of worship and many businesses are closed. Cases continue to rise.

As with all our Practical Action country offices around the world, we have been working with communities and local authorities since the start of the pandemic to do everything we can to lessen the impact and save lives.

The challenge here is limiting the spread of the virus in a region where water and sanitation are scarce.

In urban Kisumu, 50% of people have limited or no access to clean water. In rural Turkana the same applies to 80% of the population.

Of course we’ve been working with communities here for many years to enable access to water, soap, and life-saving hygiene advice. You may have supported or read about our 2018 Safe Pair of Hands appeal and programme of work. This continues as the backdrop to our coronavirus response, in addition to a new set of priorities and targets.

In limiting the spread, behaviour change among the communities is essential: 67% of people we’ve talked to believe that water alone is adequate to clean hands, and 43% say soap is a luxury that they can’t afford. So we’ve been spreading messages as widely as we can about the importance of handwashing, social distancing, PPE and what to do if you’re ill.

Early on, we identified opportunities for getting lifesaving advice to communities virtually. In Kenya, over 50% of the population is under 35 and highly connected via social media. So as well as sending push messages through mobile phones, we’ve been using social media platforms like Facebook to get the message out. We’ve also trained community health volunteers, and created murals in public areas to communicate preventative measures.

The corporate partnerships we’ve developed during the crisis have been essential in maximising our impact. Partners have helped us distribute water storage tanks, handwashing stations, sanitisers and soap. We’ve also distributed sanitary pads to 4,300 women and girls who are struggling to access essentials like this during the pandemic.

In partnership with the county governments of Turkana and Kisumu, we’ve participated in virtual Coronavirus Response Meetings. These are an opportunity to influence plans and responses at the county level. We’re making great progress, but there’s still a long way to go. We’re yet to reach the peak of coronavirus infections, so the biggest period of uncertainty and economic impact is still to come.

Your impact



community health volunteers provided with PPE and trained to spread coronavirus safety advice.



people across Kenya given information via mobile and social media to help keep themselves safe.



of water pipeline extended, providing 250 new household connections, plus 5 new community water points each serving 100 people.



handwashing stations being built for health centres, dispensaries and vulnerable households.

Helping Apoo protect herself

“I heard the virus kills the aged and I didn’t have money to purchase the required face mask, so I ended up making one for myself.”

Apoo lives in a very remote part of northern Kenya. Her children left her to find work in bigger towns, and so she usually relies on neighbours for food. In the past few months, she told us, it has been a struggle, and she has gone to bed hungry on many occasions.

Apoo wanted to protect herself from coronavirus, so she made her own  face mask from plastic.

As part of our response, our community health volunteers gave her a proper, safe mask and a water storage container, along with a lesson on handwashing and advice on how to keep herself safe. This kind of work makes a big different in remote communities that have no access to water, and who can’t afford to buy some of the preventative items that are needed.

Read more about this project

Children from Pandpieri Primary School washing their hands
EducationWater & waste

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