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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Why COVID-19 Health pandemic is not a social status equalizer

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An opinion poll conducted in Kenya last year showed that more than 60 percent of Kenyans were on board for the idea of a total lockdown. 

The government on its part having offered some fiscal reliefs felt confident to announce a partial lockdown, banning movements in and out Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale.

Though a good move from a public health perspective, the lockdown coupled with the curfew have far reaching and wide economic ramifications whose effects would reverberate amongst the most vulnerable Kenyans living and working in the informal sectors.

COVID-19 was previously touted as a great equalizer, a disease that doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the poor, especially after the Prince of Wales; Prince Charles and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson became the first high and mighty who fell victim to the Virus. 

However, data coming from the United States indicate otherwise. For instance, in Louisiana where African Americans make up 33 percent of the population, they accounted for 70 per cent of COVID-19 related deaths. In Michigan, though African Americans are 14 percent of the population, 40 percent of the Corona related deaths were from this community. 

In Sweden, the Somali community make up a paltry 0.69 per cent of the population yet they accounted for nearly 40 percent of the deaths in Sweden. 

Western media linked the disproportionate impact of the pandemic to, inter alia, underlying health conditions prevalent with the minorities. However, a closer look at these numbers highlights a grim reality that COVID-19 is far from an equalizer; one can easily deduce a correlation between poverty and the deaths.  

Why would the underlying conditions be more prevalent in African Americans, Hispanics and Somalis compared to the indigenous White community? This could be largely attributable to systemic marginalization of these communities over a long period of time.

In Kenya, one can project the above data on to our situation and argue, for instance, that Kibera residents are more susceptible to the impact of COVID-19 than the residents of Karen, it follows then the government must take deliberate and targeted steps to prevent a full blown crisis especially within our informal settlements. 

Washing hands more often has been recommended by World Health Organization (WHO) as one essential way to fight the Virus, however, only one in four households in Kenya have continuous supply of water, this dents Kenya’s commitment to genuinely overcome the pandemic, a basic utility like water should be readily available for all Kenyans. 

In this regard, the government should instruct the Ministry of Water, sanitation and irrigation to conduct mass connection of water especially in the informal settlements like Kibera and Mathare, these connections should be done free of charge. 

On the other hand, the government should waive all charges on water and electricity during this period of lockdown.

The President’s tax reliefs last year that ended on January 1, in my view, barely scratches the surface, a deft move to benefit less than two million Kenyans while throwing into dank cells nearly twelve million Kenyans working in the informal sector, a hole, most Kenyans may never pull out of. 

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, housing was a crisis with 60 percent and 40 per cent in Kisumu and Nairobi under informal settlement respectively, the government should forestall further crisis in this sector. The government should have given tax breaks on the commercial rental income to landlords or property owners and shall make sure this benefits trickle down to tenants in the form of monthly rental discounts or waiver. 

The forgoing are ubiquitous constitutional rights under Article 43 which enunciates that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, reasonable standards of sanitation, the right to be free from hunger and to have adequate food of acceptable quality and finally the right to clean and safe water. 

The same article stipulates that every Kenyan is entitled to accessible and adequate housing. Having their livelihoods cut off, Kenyans must now more than ever, reap these economic and social rights.

With about 35 percent of Kenyans living below the poverty line, Kenyans should ask their members of parliament to get up and get back to work, and while at it, our leaders must rise above the cheap political fray of partisanship and legislate aptly suited laws for the pandemic. 

When the pandemic is over, if we don’t perish all, what is left of us must with verve and zeal reclaim our nation. 

By: The frontier post

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