Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lifestyle, mental health and well being of adults and children in Kenya

The World Health Organization (WHO) first declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th January 2020. After rapidly spreading across the globe, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on 11th March 2020. The virus which was first reported in Wuhan China late 2019, caused sickness, panic and death in several countries. Currently, over 5 Million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 related illnesses. Being a novel virus, many countries experienced despair, overwhelmed health facilities and mass graves as the world grappled with curbing the spread of this virus. While most of its immediate effects were clear to see, the real impact has been felt in various aspects of  economy, mental health, lifestyle and education systems over time.

Kenya reported its first COVID-19 case on 12th March 2020 through a press briefing that was reported by the Cabinet Secretary for Health Hon. Mutahi Kagwe. Just like in other nations, the news caused a considerable amount of panic which was further accentuated by miscommunication on social media. The government put several efforts such as official  COVID-19 communication centers to offer factual guidance to Kenyans on the virus and prevention measures. Despite efforts to curb the spread of the virus and manage treatment, Kenyans from all walks of life, both young and old have been affected by this virus in one way or another. Below is a report on how the pandemic affected the lifestyles and mental health of Kenyans:

Lifestyle

Several measures to curb the spread of the virus such as lock downs directly affected the livelihoods of many Kenyans. While some corporations such as Safaricom and Nation Media Group introduced working from home options for their staff, several other companies had to partake in involuntary lay offs to remain sustainable. Measures such as total shut downs and lock downs limited the functions of business that relied on trans-county transactions thus crippling their viability.

Top performing Kenyan industries such as Hospitality and Tourism, Entertainment and Education were largely affected by these measures. Many people in these industries lost their jobs as they faced the brunt of the total shut downs that were aimed at limiting human contact. Several hotel and bars staff were sent home on unpaid leaves as their employers could not sustain their jobs. Loss of livelihoods meant drastic lifestyle changes forcing individuals to cut down on costs in order to survive. This also led to a massive urban to rural exodus as the city life was proving to be very expensive for some middle and low income earners who worked in the cities.

The pandemic also saw the rise of digital economy as many young Kenyans embraced the new opportunities such as content creation, data entry, virtual teaching, cryptocurrency etc.

Several small businesses also struggled to survive the pandemic. A report by the World Bank confirmed that the pandemic reversed the gains made in poverty alleviation for the first time in a generation. Lifestyle changes had a direct implications on those of the children as they had to cope with what their parents could afford. Other children also lost their parents to the virus thus adjust to new care givers and their respective lifestyles.

Mental Health

With the pandemic came  lot of stress caused by loss of jobs, economic shifts, overwhelmed health workers and patient stigma just to mention a few. There is no doubt that the pandemic amplified the need for mental health among Kenyans. In a country where mental health was not really a priority, the pandemic forced many to access their well being and work towards better mental health.

Self isolation and lock downs forced many people to stay at home. This put a strain on individual, spousal and family relations leading to an increase in domestic violence cases. There was also a spike in suicide cases especially among men some of which were alluded to the economic strain that several Kenyans were facing. While access to mental health care was quite unstructured in Kenya, in June 2020, the Kenyan government through the ministry of health unveiled its deliberate strategy to provide mental and psychosocial support to Kenyans. This was one of its initiatives to mitigate the mental health effects caused by the pandemic. The program was targeted at the health professionals and Kenyans at large and included offering 24 hour counseling services to those in need.