University researchers helping to limit the spread of coronavirus in Kenya

Researchers from Manchester are helping to limit the spread of coronavirus in Kenya, where the spread of the virus in informal settlements causes huge challenges for the authorities.

The team - which is led by The University of Manchester’s Professor Mahesh Nirmalan, and includes Dr Jonny Huck and Professor Diana Mitlin alongside the University of Nairobi and NGO ADRA - are undertaking research into how non-medical interventions can effectively limit the spread of COVID-19 in places where conventional approaches to mitigating diseases are particularly challenging.

Such settlements typically have extremely high population density which prevents social distancing, limited access to soap and water preventing regular hand washing, and high levels of poverty meaning that people must go to work instead of staying at home.

During the project, the researchers have gathered a large amount of information from people living in three informal settlements relating to their behaviours and attitudes towards the pandemic, and are now piloting multiple non-medical interventions. The team has provided training to over 22,000 people - educating them on how respiratory diseases spread, providing respiratory hygiene information and addressing the cultural challenges that face coverings pose – as well as distributing over 46,000 locally-manufactured face coverings to residents.

After these interventions, further data will be collected in order to understand the relative impact of different approaches. The researchers point out that there is a real need for evidence-based guidance as to the efficacy of such interventions, as this will help ensure that they are more widely accepted and are implemented effectively.

Countries around the world have struggled to control COVID-19, but the challenge is intensified in places where people are living in extreme poverty and in crowded informal settlements. This means that many of the measures that we are used to in the UK such as social distancing, regular hand sanitising and lockdowns are almost impossible to implement effectively.
Dr Jonny Huck

"We hope that our work will help to limit the impact of COVID-19 in these settlements, as well as help some of the most vulnerable communities in the world to handle future outbreaks of respiratory disease, which have been seen with increasing frequency in recent years," he added.

The team are now working to attract more funding, allowing the scope of this research to be increased to more settlements, and to include regular testing for SARS-COV2 (which causes COVID-19) and a range of other respiratory diseases. It is hoped that the findings of this research will provide a much-needed evidence-based advancement in the ability to control respiratory disease in informal settlements around the world.

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