The link between poverty and disease in Kenya


CELEBRATION, Florida – Poverty and disease create a vicious cycle in which they simultaneously feed off each other. As poverty increases, the disease benefits from a lack of sanitation practices, access to immunization and adequate health care. In turn, the disease exacerbates the struggle already faced by people living in poverty. Poverty limits “access to adequate nutrition and healthy foods” as well as “other elements that define an individual’s standard of living.” People who live in low-income or high-poverty neighborhoods are likely to have poor health due to a combination of these factors.

Almost eight million people live in extreme poverty in Kenya, or 16% of the population. This makes the need to control the disease in Kenya crucial. Many of the country’s slums have become hotbeds of disease. This is due to a number of factors, such as close living quarters, too many people in small houses, as well as lack of access to adequate sanitation facilities, clean water and to health care.

Programs to reduce disease rates in Kenya

HIV / AIDS is the leading cause of death in Kenya. This sexually transmitted infection directly affects 1.5 million people in this East African country. It is spreading rampantly among people living in poverty, who are more at risk of turning to sex work and have less access to sexual health education.

Other diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria are also a problem. Programs like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are trying to alleviate these problems through projects like its Global HIV, Tuberculosis, and Immunization Programs. In addition, groups like the President’s Malaria Initiative, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are doing their part. They succeeded in eliminating malaria as one of the top five killers in Kenya; however, the disease continues to pose a great threat to those living in poverty.

Elizabeth Goodwin, a former Peace Corps volunteer who is now a co-owner of Service Learning in Kenya, highlights the danger of water-borne illnesses in infants as well as the high death rates from diarrheal illnesses. It highlights the gaps in access to resources such as water, health care and education between cities and rural areas.

“Although it has improved a lot from 25 years ago, there is still a lack of health care education in poverty-stricken Kenya,” Goodwin told Project Borgen in an interview. “For example, we need to teach mothers that when their babies have diarrhea, they need to hydrate them more instead of limiting their access to water.

The impact of COVID-19 in Kenya

Kenya had more than 254,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of the end of November, resulting in more than 5,300 deaths. Compared to HIV / AIDS and other infections that are spreading across Kenya, some observers can say that COVID-19 is relatively maintained.

Kenya has imposed heavy travel restrictions, among other measures, which is part of the reason why the country has had a low infection rate compared to other countries like the United States. But those numbers are hard to be trusted, Goodwin said, citing testing deviations as well as doctors lacking the proper means to determine the causes of death.

Goodwin experienced many of Kenya’s travel restrictions when traveling within and outside the country. She noted that the government has quarantined each of Kenya’s 47 counties. Yet it did not have the same full closure capacity as more developed countries. “[It] couldn’t be completely locked down because people are living on the invented ‘less than a dollar a day’, ”she said. “So if they were completely locked up, the poor would have no money to eat and […] would starve.

Individual protection equipment

Like many people living in poverty around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, impoverished Kenyans have limited or no access to personal protective equipment and vaccines. The lack of access to vaccines is also evident as less than 10% of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to the United States where more than 60% of the population is now fully vaccinated.

Goodwin has also personally observed limited access to face masks, shortages of oxygen tanks and a growing number of people unable to pay their hospital bills. It is clear to her that if COVID-19 were to hit Kenya hard, the country would be in urgent need of increased humanitarian assistance. In addition to the devastating effects of COVID-19 on health, “the lockdowns have led to economic decline, disruptions in the management of HIV / AIDS and malaria, an increase in gender-based violence and food insecurity,” he said. added Goodwin.

COVID-19 has brought to the fore the link between poverty and disease in Kenya, highlighting how quickly the disease can disrupt even economically stable areas. To fight poverty, countries must prioritize disease control and vice versa.

Lily vassalo
Photo: Flickr

About Bradley J. Bridges

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