Assessment of COVID-19 Response Gaps Among Religious Leaders in the Coastal Counties of Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi

In December 2020, the Network for Religious & Traditional Peacemakers (NRTP), in collaboration with Finn Church Aid (FCA) Kenya County Office and Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics Trust (CICC), conducted an assessment COVID -19 response gaps among religious leaders in the Kenyan Coastal Counties of Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi.

The purpose of the assessment was to identify gaps among religious leaders in responding to COVID -19, examine the impacts of the gaps and understand how religious leaders are adapting to the pandemic. In identifying the gaps, the assessment used mixed methods exploratory survey design to collect qualitative and quantitative data from a haphazard purposive sample of 431 congregants and 6 focus group discussion (FGD) on knowledge, attitudes and practices as well as the effect of COVID 19 to the operations of the congregants and how they have coped with the situation.

In Kenya, there are varying views in understanding what COVID-19 is and how it impacts communities. Largely, the participants in the assessment viewed COVID-19 as a contagious airborne respiratory viral disease.  However, the degree to which respondents found it to be real, varied.  With mostly understanding the virus, participants had a strong grasp on the importance of proper sanitation and wearing a mask to protect themselves and their communities.

Participants acknowledged their religious institutions utilized technology as a means to reach congregations with sermons.  They further noted their fellow congregants are now adopting the use of social media and acknowledge its usefulness, whereas they had been discouraged in the past.  A majority of the participants utilize either a smart phone or laptop to access social media, especially through the sites Facebook and WhatsApp.  The religious leaders acknowledged in addition to using technology, they have adopted other strategies to reach their congregants, such as small discussion groups at household or neighborhood level.

While social media has been a primary communication channel since the onset of the pandemic, most rural places of worship have not fully adopted it due to the lack of internet connectivity and ICT devices including smart phones.

In looking to the near future, the participants were interested in getting more information on how the disease is spread and preventative measures from contracting the virus. While there is a relatively high level of COVID-19 awareness and awareness creation amongst religious leaders and their congregants, there still needs to be clearer guidelines on reopening houses of worship, increase in safety supplies, such as hand sanitizer, and identify mechanisms to decrease the digital divide.

Previously FCA, NRTP and CICC had implemented various activities in supporting religious leaders in COVID-19 Response. These activities have ranged from organizing webinars, producing online educational materials, supporting live TV talk shows on COVID 19, holding radio talk shows, and building capacity of Imams, community workers and madrassa teachers in home-based care for COVID-19.