KHAYELITSHA, South Africa — Khayelitsha is a small township based in Cape Town, South Africa, with a 15 square miles area and a population of over 400,000. Recently, the world has started to pay closer attention to Khayelitsha due to its rapid rise of COVID-19 cases. As of mid-June 2020, South Africa as a whole has documented over 83,000 COVID-19 cases. Khayelitsha has reported a total of about 5,800 cases, with approximately 1,500 deaths. Additionally, Western Cape has recorded 44,143, or 53% of all claims in South Africa.
Prime Minister of South Africa Pieter Williem Botha founded the township of Khayelitsha in 1983 to accommodate settlers looking to escape violence from neighboring areas. Black Africans quickly immigrated into the area, and it is now the second-largest township that houses Black Africans. Significant immigration rates continued into the 1990s, and now the township is known for its large number of residents condensed into such a small area.
5 Facts About COVID-19 in Khayelitsha
- Neighboring Townships: Other areas adjacent to Khayelitsha, such as Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek have been able to maintain healthier conditions throughout the COVID-19 lockdown. Citizens in these areas can practice social distancing and healthily quarantine in their households with access to basic needs such as food, water and shelter.
- Difficulty in Abiding Government Warnings: The dense population of Khayelitsha makes it difficult, if not impossible, for citizens to abide by health warnings. For one, citizens are instructed by the South African government to wash their hands as often as possible, but many do not even have access to soap. Furthermore, while people are advised to stay home, many share public resources such as toilets and travel far to buy food. Sanitation workers also do not have access to cleaning products to clean more than 200 toilets daily.
- Effects on Women and Children: Women and children in Khayelitsha suspected of having COVID-19 are reportedly being ostracized from their communities by neighbors and friends. For example, a woman suspected of having COVID-19 in Khayelitsha was evicted from her residence, and members of her community threatened her and her young daughter’s well-being. Though she tested negative for the virus, the threats and rumors continued. This woman was later claimed to be the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Khayelitsha, though this was incorrect. Furthermore, pregnant women are also susceptible to diseases other than COVID-19; over one-third of pregnant women have tested positive for HIV in Khayelitsha. Conditions such as these weaken pregnant women’s immune systems, making them more likely to test positive for COVID-19.
- Scarce Resources: One problem specific to Khayelitsha is the rate at which people receive their results for COVID-19 screen tests. Most people are receiving their results within eight to 10 days of being tested. Additionally, while there was a homeless shelter established to protect homeless people from contracting the virus, it houses over 1,000 people. There is a significant concern about contracting the virus in this overcrowded housing. Moreover, many people in Khayelitsha do not have access to proper sanitation tools, and sanitation workers are facing a lack of necessary cleaning supplies to clean toilets and other common areas.
- Opening of Medical Facilities: Despite scarcity and the constant rise in COVID-19 cases in Khayelitsha, there has been steady progress in opening more medical facilities from outside resources. In June, the international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières, translated as Doctors Without Borders, opened a field hospital that received 24 patients within the first 24 hours of the facility’s opening. The field hospital is acting as an overflow medical facility with 60 additional beds. The facility also addresses people infected with tuberculosis (TB) and HIV. However, there has recently been a concern that both the hospital and the medical facility will soon reach capacity given current infection rates.
COVID-19 in Khayelitsha is a growing issue as more citizens are becoming infected with limited access to the appropriate supplies needed for recovery. The conditions in which most citizens live in make it very difficult to practice safe social distancing or sanitize facilities being used daily by the community. While medical facilities in the area have developed amid the pandemic, there is still much work to be done to provide safe, accessible and affordable resources to people in Khayelitsha.
– Alondra Belford
Photo: Wikimedia Commons