Journal Article

Mobility patterns during COVID-19 travel restrictions in Nairobi urban informal settlements: Who is leaving home and why

Nairobi’s urban slums are ill equipped to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) due to high population density, multigenerational families in poorly ventilated informal housing, and poor sanitation. Physical distancing policies, curfews, and a citywide lockdown were implemented in March and April 2020 resulting in sharp decreases in movement across the city. However, most people cannot afford to stay home completely (e.g., leaving daily to fetch water). If still employed, they may need to travel longer distances for work, potentially exposing them COVID-19 or contributing to its spread. We conducted a household survey across five urban slums to describe factors associated with mobility in the previous 24 h. A total of 1695 adults were interviewed, 63% female. Of these, most reported neighborhood mobility within their informal settlement (54%), 19% stayed home completely, and 27% reported long-distance mobility outside their informal settlement, mainly for work. In adjusted multinomial regression models, women were 58% more likely than men to stay home (relative risk ratio (RRR): 1.58, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.16, 2.14) and women were 60% less likely than men to report citywide mobility (RRR: 0.40; 95% CI 0.31, 0.52). Individuals in the wealthiest quintile, particularly younger women, were most likely to not leave home at all. Those who reported citywide travel were less likely to have lost employment (RRR: 0.49; 95% CI 0.38, 0.65) and were less likely to avoid public transportation (RRR: 0.30; 95% CI 0.23, 0.39). Employment and job hunting were the main reasons for traveling outside of the slum; less than 20% report other reasons. Our findings suggest that slum residents who retain their employment are traveling larger distances across Nairobi, using public transportation, and are more likely to be male; this travel may put them at higher risk of COVID-19 infection but is necessary to maintain income. Steps to protect workers from COVID-19 both in the workplace and while in transit (including masks, hand sanitizer stations, and reduced capacity on public transportation) are critical as economic insecurity in the city increases due to COVID-19 mitigation measures. Workers must be able to commute and maintain employment to not be driven further into poverty. Additionally, to protect the majority of individuals who are only travelling locally within their settlement, mitigation measures such as making masks and handwashing stations accessible within informal settlements must also be implemented, with special attention to the burden placed on women.