Nairobi — By the time the public health officials reached a Maasai community not far from Nairobi, Julius Oloiboni had already mobilized everyone to protect themselves and others against COVID-19.

Mr Oloiboni, a Maasai elder, and the 30 members of his community periodically move with their cattle between Nairobi and Kajiado counties for grazing. But when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Kenya, the government put the city on lockdown, including semi-nomadic groups like Mr Oloiboni’s, thus curtailing their movement to new grazing areas.

Mr Oloiboni and his family had been following the news of the highly infectious virus on the radio and their mobile phones. The Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are blanketing the country through TV, radio and digital channels with messages that implore communities to take precautions along with what actions would help protect them.

With the warnings in hand, the community set up handwashing stations in their makeshift village. They stopped family members from interacting with each other and stopped all movement out of the village except for the herdsmen who take the cattle to the grazing fields.

In the densely populated informal settlement of Kawangware, inside Nairobi, Judy Emeza brought her three children for a COVID-19 test. She had heard through the radio about a free mass testing campaign in her neighbourhood, where the virus had started to spread.

“Corona has reached Kawangware. That is why I want us to get tested,” she says while waiting to be tested, with a long line of people behind her. “If I am told I have the disease, I will follow what doctors will tell me to do.”

Others in her community are sceptical of whether the disease is real, largely due to the myths and rumours circulating via social media.

“I don’t know, man. You people are confusing and scaring us,” John Waweru, a bus driver, tells Beatrice Lugalia, a health promotion officer who is overly busy these days in countering the myths by sensitizing communities through visits and radio programmes and encouraging testing. “Is it true that the nose swab goes all the way to the brain? I don’t like that.”

“That’s not true,” Ms Lugalia responds. “It is like an earbud. It is soft but has to be long enough to reach the rear of your nostrils. It is not painful, just a little uncomfortable.”

In the Old Town area of Mombasa in southern Kenyan, which is currently a hotspot of the virus, a man named Ahmed is the only person to show up for a recent day of free testing. His community has refused to be tested. His tight-knit enclave of Swahili people fears that testing positive will create stigma and take family members into an isolation facility where they can’t be visited by loved ones. The government has since changed tact and now promotes home-based quarantine.