It started well: Kenya received over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from India via the Covax arrangement. In mid-March, our local hospital set up tents in the carpark to vaccinate the priority groups of healthworkers, teachers, security personnel and the elderly (58 years and over). Then India suffered a huge outbreak and vaccine export stopped.
In May it looked like the vaccines were about to run out so I went early (nine weeks on) to get my second dose. By June I was thinking about asking my cleaner to come back from paid leave so I wouldn’t have to do the cleaning jobs I dislike the most, like climbing a ladder to clean the louvre windows and mopping the floors.
In early July six of us vaccinated oldies went away for the weekend to a lodge next to Tsavo National Park for a charity game count. It was my first proper break for over a year and lovely to be out in wide open spaces enjoying the bird watching and elephant encounters. It was also an eye opener as we drove along the Mombasa-Nairobi highway to see how little rain other parts of the country had received.
Since then the COVID-19 situation has worsened as the delta variant spread across the country from western Kenya. Kilifi County is in the top 20% of counties for recorded cases and recently I heard of several people’s parents dying of ‘pneumonia’. In discussions with my colleagues who are locals I learnt that large funerals are still taking place despite the official limit of 50 mourners. It is culturally very difficult for them not to attend so they are encouraging people to livestream the burials. Video cameras are common at all services these days so it should be possible, but it is considered bad form not to attend funerals even if the deceased wasn’t a close friend. My friend Martha put it that if you don’t appear shocked by the bad news, maybe you had some part in the person’s death.
On my recent trips into Kilifi to the market I noticed that mask wearing is becoming more common, partly due to fear of enforcement by the police. Hawkers sell disposable masks at street corners for the equivalent of 10p. Social distancing is practised less so I get startled looks when I remind people to keep their distance in shops. I decided to limit my visits to the Upendo children’s site as it seems pretty impossible for them to observe COVID protocols! The office team have been busy helping the new form one students prepare to go to their boarding secondary schools.
With poor vaccination coverage and limited data on COVID-19 (less than 10,000 tests per day for the whole country) it is difficult to predict how long the fourth wave in Kenya will last so I am being careful and still working from home. I attend church services online and I have met in a prayer triplet with friends who are vaccinated, but our bible study group communications are limited to WhatApp. I realised this weekend that I was spending more time watching travel videos on YouTube – a sign that I am ready for a holiday! Kenya is on the red list so a trip back to the UK is not on the cards.
Work is still mostly laptop-based, with Skype and Teams calls to colleagues in Kilifi as well as the rest of Africa, UK and America. Plans for a new study aiming to improve micronutrient status in women of reproductive age are still at an early stage but look promising. The trial to improve gut function in severely malnourished children that I am local safety monitor for looks set to start next month now that ethical approvals have been obtained and the investigational product and placebo have been manufactured. The application to revisit the mothers in the Barriers to Breastfeeding study now that their children are four years old is with the national ethics review unit in Nairobi. I am feeling hopeful that I will get permission from them and the research unit directors to resume in-person study activities, with COVID precautions of course.
I thank you all for your continued prayers and giving, and a special mention to those who have given practical support to the Upendo children and the premature babies in the hospital.
With love in Christ,
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