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COVID-19 Support for Leprosy Communities: Nairobi, Kenya

Through our grant programs, Sasakawa Health Foundation is working to realize a world free from all forms of suffering associated with leprosy, or Hansen’s disease.

In 2020, a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, life became tougher for communities of persons affected by leprosy and their families. Therefore, in addition to our existing grant programs, we added a COVID support program based on 1) responding to direct needs, 2) advocacy with the government, and 3) actively disseminating information.

Our second report comes from Nairobi, Kenya.

Kenya’s capital has several dozen areas defined as slums, among them an area home to immigrants from neighboring Tanzania. They include persons who have experienced leprosy, many of whom earn a living from begging. But the introduction of curfews and restrictions on movement in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic deprived them of their only means of income generation and life became very difficult.

Moreover, because they are immigrants, they were not eligible for government relief, so humanitarian assistance was urgently needed. In response, we provided them with emergency support, with the highest priority being to ameliorate the situation of the most vulnerable.

Self-care kits distributed to persons affected by leprosy in Nairobi, Kenya on December 23, 2020.

We channeled our support through IDEA REFACO Kenya Foundation, an organization of persons affected by leprosy, and the international NGO Interconnected Health Solutions (IHS), with the program lasting for four months from November 2020 through February 2021.

Since its establishment in 2014, Nairobi-based IDEA REFACO has been working to improve the lives of persons affected by leprosy in Kenya and establish their human rights, while laying the foundations for advocacy and empowerment. IHS, also based in Nairobi, is an organization that promotes public health problems with a focus on preventable and communicable diseases, including neglected tropical diseases.

For the duration of the project, the two organizations distributed food each month to some 250 Tanzanian families in need, while 150 people were provided with self-care kits to prevent their disabilities from worsening.

In addition, 102 people received counseling to address mental health issues associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, five people who expressed a wish to return to Tanzania were provided with bus tickets to their hometowns and funds for after they reached home. The Tanzania Leprosy Association was contacted in advance and asked to follow up on the five once they arrived.

A gathering in Nairobi on December 8, 2020, to send off Tanzanians who chose to return home.

Updates on these activities were provided in a timely manner via IDEA REFACO’s social media accounts.

The project helped to draw attention to the challenges that immigrants who are persons affected by leprosy face—a situation not limited to Kenya, but also found in other countries where immigrant status and the lack of a social safety net can compound the social vulnerability already experienced as a result of leprosy.

IDEA REFACO Kenya Foundation Facebook