People living in high density areas struggle for isolation space

By Nyaradzo Nyere 

HARARE – When Hilda Kwaramba contracted Covid-19 she was shocked and didn’t know where she had contracted the disease.

What made her situation more difficult was her living conditions at her home. Kwaramba rents two rooms in Harare’s densely populated township of Highfield.

She shares the bathroom with two other families. Her two rooms were not sufficient for her to isolate herself as she stays with her husband and three children.

According to a research published on  Public Life of Science (PLOS) One, an international research platform, poor housing conditions have been linked with worse health outcomes and infectious disease spread.

“Counties with a higher percentage of households with poor housing had higher incidence of, and mortality associated with, COVID-19. These findings suggest targeted health policies to support individuals living in poor housing conditions should be considered in further efforts to mitigate adverse outcomes associated with COVID-19,” states the report

In the past years, overcrowding has been associated with spread of respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis and influenza which have aerosol and droplet transmissions, both of which are potential modes of transmission for COVID-19.

“When l tested positive, l was instructed by nurses at a local hospital to go home and self-isolate there. I do not drive a car neither do l own a home. My only option was to use public get transportation to get home,” she said.

hard choices

Kwaramba’s husband, Malcom, said it was a difficult decision they had to make but due to unavailability of personal transportation or other alternatives, they were left with limited options. 

“The home situation was even worse, how could l self-isolate when basic amnesties such as the bathroom and toilet were all shared. Additionally, l share my home with my family and we don’t have a lot of space,” she said.

Kwaramba said she had to use large dishes to bath and her husband had to sleep in the same room with her children.

“It was a very difficult and stressing period for us, she said. Luckily for her, none of her family contracted the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published housing and health guidelines in 2018, identifying poor housing related environmental risk factors including overcrowding, air and water quality, and lack of access to adequate plumbing and sanitation.

These were identified as factors contributing to the burden of infectious diseases including airborne respiratory illnesses.

“Another feature of poor housing conditions is high cost burden, defined as more than 50% of the household income spent towards housing cost. 

Households facing high housing cost in proportion to the household income have to compromise in other aspects of living, such as education, health insurance and food, among others. Prior studies have shown an association between high housing costs and delays in seeking healthcare,” states the PLOS One research.

In other well developed countries, volunteer quarantine centres have been set up to provide individuals who test positive for coronavirus with a place to self-isolate if they are not able to do so at home due to overcrowded housing conditions. 

Kwaramba said the government of Zimbabwe should take important steps to address health disparities and mitigate vulnerabilities to the virus.

“So many people are living in squalid conditions which are super spreaders of the disease, the government should quickly address these housing issues,” she said.

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