A vulnerability index for COVID-19: spatial analysis to inform equitable response in Kenya
Macharia P., Joseph N., Okiro E.
Background Response to the COVID-19 pandemic calls for precision public health reflecting our improved understanding of who is the most vulnerable and their geographical location. We created three vulnerability indices to identify areas and people who require greater support while elucidating health inequities to inform emergency response in Kenya. Methods Geospatial indicators were assembled to create three vulnerability indices; social (SVI), epidemiological (EVI) and a composite of the two (SEVI) resolved at 295 sub-counties in Kenya. SVI included nineteen indicators that affect the spread of disease; socio-economic inequities, access to services and population dynamics while EVI comprised five indicators describing comorbidities associated with COVID-19 severe disease progression. The indicators were scaled to a common measurement scale, spatially overlaid via arithmetic mean and equally weighted. The indices were classified into seven classes, 1-2 denoted low-vulnerability and 6-7 high-vulnerability. The population within vulnerabilities classes was quantified. Results The spatial variation of each index was heterogeneous across Kenya. Forty-nine north-western and partly eastern sub-counties (6.9 m people) were highly vulnerable while 58 sub-counties (9.7 m people) in western and central Kenya were the least vulnerable for SVI. For EVI, 48 sub-counties (7.2 m people) in central and the adjacent areas and 81 sub-counties (13.2 m people) in northern Kenya were the most and least vulnerable respectively. Overall (SEVI), 46 sub-counties (7.0 m people) around central and south-eastern were more vulnerable while 81 sub-counties (14.4 m people) that were least vulnerable. Conclusion The vulnerability indices created are tools relevant to the county, national government and stakeholders for prioritization and improved planning especially in highly vulnerable sub-counties where cases have not been confirmed. The heterogeneous nature of the vulnerability highlights the need to address social determinants of health disparities, strengthen the health system and establish programmes to cushion against the negative effects of the pandemic. Summary Key questions What is already known? Disasters and adverse health events such as epidemics and pandemics disproportionately affect population with significantly higher impacts on the most vulnerable and less resilient communities. Significant health, socio-economic, demographic and epidemiological disparities exist within Kenya when considering individual determinants, however, little is known about the spatial variation and inequities of their concurrence. What are the new findings? Sub-counties in the north-western and partly eastern Kenya are most vulnerable when considering social vulnerability index while central and south-east regions are most vulnerable based on the epidemiological vulnerability index affecting approximately 6.9 million and 7.2 million people respectively. The combined index of social and epidemiological vulnerabilities shows that on average, 15% (7.0 million) of Kenyans reside in the most vulnerable sub-counties mainly located in the central and south-eastern parts of Kenya. What do the new findings imply? Targeted interventions that cushion against negative effects to the most vulnerable sub-counties are essential to respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Implementation of strategies that address the socioeconomic determinants of health disparities and strengthening health systems is crucial to effectively prevent, detect and respond to future adverse health events or disasters in the country. Need for better quality data to define a robust vulnerability index at high spatial resolution that can be adapted and used in response to future disasters and adverse health events in the long run.