Feature: Kenya's elderly tighten precautions to contain COVID-19


  • World
  • Thursday, 30 Jul 2020

NAIROBI, July 29 (Xinhua) -- If all had gone as planned, Gilbert Wandera, a resident of Nairobi, Kenya's capital, would be traveling to their rural home in Busia in the western part of the country on Saturday to visit his elderly parents.

But that would not happen as his father, a 71-year-old retired teacher, asked him not to.

"You stay in the city, you will come when the country is safe," Wandera, a businessman in Nairobi, said on Wednesday his father told him.

Wandera, who sells computers and has not visited his aging parents since the year began, noted that he understood why his father rejected his wish.

"Initially, he is the one who asked me to visit, but now due to COVID-19, he cannot allow me to voluntarily go there. These are not ordinary times," he observed, adding he sent them cash via mobile money.

His predicament is shared by other Kenyans as their aging parents in rural areas tighten controls to curb chances of contracting the disease.

Identified as highly vulnerable to COVID-19, the elderly in Kenya are not only asking their children, especially those who live in Nairobi, the epicenter of the disease, to stay there but they are also taking high precautions wherever they live.

In many urban areas, the elderly, especially those who are not in active business or employment, are venturing out of their homes less often and whenever they do, a good number are putting on face guards or N95 face masks to protect themselves.

And while in public places, they are at the forefront of ensuring the rest of the citizens, especially the youth, wear face masks and sanitize to keep the virus at bay.

At a mobile money shop in Nairobi city center, an elderly man on Monday forced the attendant to wear a face mask properly and fill water in a container for his non-functional hand-washing point to protect his customers.

He also told a young man who had moved so close to him to move a meter apart to adhere to social distancing protocols.

"Kindly protect me as I also protect you," he said, repeating a refrain used by health authorities in Kenya to encourage citizens to adhere to health guidelines.

Caroline Awour, a 63-year-old retired civil servant who worked with the national revenue authority, and now runs a household shop in Kitengela, south of Nairobi, said that she does not serve any customer who does not have a mask.

"They may not wash their hands at the handwashing point in front of the shop, but they must have masks to protect themselves and even myself," she said.

In rural areas, many elderly people have kept off social gatherings like churches and funerals as advised by the government as they seek to stay safe.

Patrick Amoth, health director-general in Kenya's Ministry of Health, notes that the elderly are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their compromised immunity.

"This makes them susceptible to several negative outcomes, including COVID-19 thus are likely to die if they contract the disease," said Amoth.

According to him, approximately 85 percent of the 311 COVID-19 deaths in Kenya consisted of people who were of advanced age or had pre-existing conditions like diabetes, hypertension or cancers.

Cabinet Secretary for Health Mutahi Kagwe noted on Wednesday that the government has engaged selected elders in villages across Kenya due to their influential status in society to act as ambassadors of messages that help curb COVID-19.

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