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Women on the frontlines — Senior Country Director of Kenya & Uganda speaks to Pathfinder’s COVID-19 response

We interviewed Eileen Mokaya, Pathfinder’s Senior Country Director in Kenya. With more than 25 years spent working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights and on-the-ground experience helping to curb the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Kenya, she shares insights about how Pathfinders can continue to serve vulnerable communities as COVID-19 spreads, while maintaining their own health and safety.

  1. How are people responding to Coronavirus where you live?

There are a lot of mixed feelings and different responses. But in general, there is a lot of anxiety and fear. People are worried about their jobs, loss of income and collapse of their businesses. Others are worried about the uncertainty this pandemic has caused. There is also fear that if more cases test positive, our health care system will not be able to manage.

  1. What would you say to Pathfinders who are feeling uneasy, or uncertain about our role during this current pandemic?

As Pathfinders, being in the public health space and working with marginalized and vulnerable populations, we all have a role to play to support the COVID-19 prevention efforts to the extent possible.

  • Begin by keeping ourselves safe and that of other staff and our families.
  • Ensure that Pathfinders in their respective countries comply with the guidance by the World Health Organization and their respective governments.
  • Ensure our activities do not expose our beneficiaries by complying with COVID-19 prevention guidance.
  • Use mobile technology to share prevention messages.
  • Seek guidance from our donors about the implications of COVID-19 on our current programming.
  • If uncertain or anxious, talk to a colleague or your supervisor. It is important to share our concerns and fears.
  1. How will challenges like the Coronavirus impact women and girls differently?

Without a doubt, women and girls will be affected by COVID-19 in various ways. At the moment, there are no sex-disaggregated data to fully understand whether and how women and girls experience the COVID-19 infection, complication, and death risks differently. However, women and girls may face heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to their disproportional representation among health care and social service personnel.  For example, in Kenya, majority of our health personnel, especially in the areas of nursing and social services, are women.

Risks to women and girls also increase if health systems divert resources from sexual and reproductive health care to respond to the pandemic. Sexual and reproductive health  services and commodities are starting to be overlooked in times of COVID-19, yet women and girls continue to require family planning and other sexual and reproductive health services. Several health facilities have already stopped some of their maternal and child health services for fear of children and pregnant women getting infected. This is particularly worrisome for women and adolescent girls who are pregnant and in need of routine health services. Infection control measures must be taken to protect women in antenatal, neonatal, and maternal health units.

  1. Can you share an anecdote of hope, from your previous experience doing this work under difficult/dangerous circumstances?

These may be difficult and challenging times, but we need to be strong together, courageous, and believe that it will come to pass.

  1. Is there anything you are doing personally to calm your nerves during this time?

I try to have a positive attitude that this time will come to pass and that I am not alone. This  is a global pandemic and we all have a responsibility to stop the spread of the infection. I continuously remind myself that we can break the infection rate by keeping ourselves safe and our family, colleagues and friends safe by complying with scientific guidance on prevention of COVID-19.