Friday, 29 May 2020

COVID-19 in rural areas

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Several African countries have proven to have weak public health and healthcare systems. Comparatively, the spread of COVID-19 in Africa has been slower than the rest of the world. This provides a level of comfort and hopefully gives governments time to put infrastructure in place towards the fight against this pandemic. Unfortunately, our public and healthcare systems still remain underequipped and insufficiently prepared for this fight. With few tests being conducted daily, it is likely that there are many more cases that remain unreported. The issue of limited access to clean water in many healthcare facilities across sub-Saharan Africa is a potential contributing factor to the spread of the virus.

Emergency preparedness and response in rural communities depends on public health departments, hospitals and emergency medical service providers. However, public health departments in rural areas tend to have less capacity and resources than their urban counterparts. In addition, hospitals are often the nucleus of health planning, activity and resources in rural communities. Though, national policy changes have encouraged hospitals to downsize bed capacity in an effort to contain costs and, as a result, rural hospitals lack surge capacity for personnel and beds. Furthermore, rural emergency medical services often rely on volunteers and may lack funding and adequate equipment.

This disease puts everyone at risk. However, some people are better able to limit their contact with others. Many people who are poor have low-paying but essential jobs. They harvest food, sell it at markets or shops, drive buses, clean hospitals, or work as domestic workers. We are all ultimately connected, and if governments don’t find a way to support and protect the economic rights of poor communities, no one will be able to isolate themselves forever from this virus.

Governments have an obligation to educate people on new diseases and to try and limit transmission. It is important to note that several African governments are enforcing preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus. One of which is the lockdown initiatives which focuses on promoting social distancing and preventing the gathering of people. By so doing, a lot of small businesses are put on hold, which in turn hinders the generation of daily income for families that live on a hand-to mouth basis. Government needs to take note of such families and ensure that measures are put in place to cater for their essential daily needs for the duration of the lockdowns.

Another matter of concern is the dense unplanned settlements and urban slums occupied by many people which allow congested living arrangements making it practically impossible to practice social distancing or isolation. These settlements often house undocumented individuals; older persons; persons with disabilities and others with underlying conditions who have limited access to the healthcare they need. There should also be concern for those who are locked up in institutions and correctional facilities. Due to the indefinite closure of schools and other learning institutions, extended periods at home under these difficult circumstances could expose girls to gender based violence including rape and child marriage. Also, unlike in wealthier countries, online classes and/or home schooling may not be available for children living in rural areas. However, improved services to these areas, including electricity, internet, and other modes of communication, can help ensure families have alternatives to schooling while children remain at home for the duration of the pandemic.