In Kawangware, rich man’s disease threatens populace

Monday, May 4th, 2020 00:00 |
Queue after the government kicked off the Covid-19 mass testing. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

It is Saturday afternoon at Kawangware Congo Stage and everyone is going about their business unperturbed by the fact that the area has recorded 22 Covid-19 cases and the suburb is now one of the city’s hotspots.

Two more people in Kawangware tested positive yesterday, three days after the mass testing exercise started in the area. 

The two were among 30 people who tested positive yesterday, pushing the number of Covid-19 cases in the country to 465. 

At least 11 out of the new cases in Kawangware have been traced to one contact —a medical worker contracted by the Ministry of Health.

Health CAS Rashid Aman yesterday expressed concern over the low turnout of residents for the targeted testing exercise.

The ministry had targeted 2,000 people but only 803 came out to be tested.

Low turnout was experienced in Eastleigh another hotspot where only 494 came out to be tested against a targeted 3,000.

“The ministry has acquired the capacity to undertake targeted testing but the willingness of the people to be tested is low. I want to appeal to Kenyans to willingly come forward to be tested. If we have to flatten the curve, mass testing will be the best option,” said Aman.

 The CAS said the test will be conducted free of charge.

 A visit to Kawangware, however, paints a picture of a community not yet ready to come to terms with the reality that the disease is slowly spreading in their midst.

At the Congo Stage, matatu conductors shout their voices hoarse calling out customers while a man without a mask stands outside a hotel cooking chapati. 

Peeking through the sheer curtain you will see a few customers waiting to be served, in direct contravention of the health ministry’s directive that hotels should not open doors to the public until they comply with Covid-19 protocols that require restaurants to test their employees, observe social distancing, take customers’ temperature and ensure that everyone patronising their facilities is wearing a mask. 

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A few metres away, another man is selling roast maize and engaging a customer in banter. Both are wearing masks – not on their faces but their chins.  

Pius Fundi, a welder who has lived in Kawangware for the past 15 years, says most people in the area still don’t understand what coronavirus is.

“We only see on television that Corona has landed in Kawangware, but personally I am yet to witness it in my family. Everyone is healthy. To us, coronavirus remains a foreign term,” said Fundi.

Fundi is not alone. Next to his shop is Felister Akinyi, a fishmonger. Akinyi has a running nose and is not wearing a face mask. She claims the piece of cloth makes it difficult for her to breath.

“I only put this thing (face mask) on when I see a policeman approaching. I prefer having it inside my pocket.  This government is eating our money in the name of coronavirus,” an angry Akinyi says.

Interestingly, nine out of 10 people you meet here are wearing masks on their chin.  

According to the latest data released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), Kawangware has a population of 291,565 people, which means that if most people are disregarding government directives on Covid-19, the area is at risk of becoming an epicentre of the disease.

At Kawangware 56, illegal liqour, chang’aa, dens operate freely.

Revellers at one of the corrugated metal sheet joints sit close to each other sipping busaa, an alcoholic drink made from maize, from the same pot.

Others are standing in clusters outside the joint talking animatedly.

Hii Corona ni ya wadosi. Hapa sisi wote ni masufferer, tutatoa wapi hii kitu (Corona is for the rich. Here we are all hustlers. How will we contract this disease),” shouts Peter Ombachi, one of the revellers.

Environment CS Keriako Tobiko, who visited Kawangware on Saturday to check the sewerage system, came face-to-face with the attitude residents have towards the disease. Most of them were not wearing facemasks.

“I can’t understand why these people are walking without facemasks at a time when we are facing such a serious threat. Somebody should explain to me why this is happening,” he protested.

For many residents of Kawangware, which borders the leafy suburbs of Lavington, coronavirus is the least of their concerns. “They are telling us to put on facemasks but they are not providing us with food to eat,” said Beatrice Mueni.

Clearer picture

Area MP Simba Arati, says he is working with the government to ensure the virus is contained.  

He said they had installed 120 washing points in the five villages.

“I am concerned by the rising cases and that’s why from my office I am doing everything I can to support my constituents. From Monday, my team will be on the ground trying to offer any support especially the face masks which are still a big problem for them,” said Arati.

The Health Ministry has sent different surveillance teams on the ground and the mass testing started on Friday.

In the daily Covid-19 briefings on Saturday, Acting Director for Health Dr Patrick Amoth said mass testing in Kawangware, Eastleigh and Mvita in Mombasa would give a clearer picture of the Covid-19 situation in the country.

However, some of the Kawangware residents are shunning the tests out of fear of being taken to forced quarantine if they are diagnosed with the disease while others say the test is painful.

“I am worried about my daughter. If they discover I have the virus, I have to go into quarantine yet I have no one to take care of her,” said Elishiba Nyongesa.

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