State needs to go all out to fight Covid-19 threat

Friday March 27 2020
Virus

Dr Majid Twahir of Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi discusses symptoms of the coronavirus with Kenya Pipeline Company's Steven Bore (left) and Terry Mbae (right) of Executive Health Solutions during a briefing at the hospital on March 15, 2020. PHOTO | LINUS OMBETTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By FAITH ONEYA

The kiss of concern from the Ministry of Health has made Kenyans feel the government’s love in the time of coronavirus. May this be the beginning of a healthy marriage.

The straight-talking Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe has faithfully kept the country informed about the spread of the disease and government interventions.

In his address to the nation last Sunday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he had suspended entry into Kenya by people from countries affected by the Covid-19 disease for 30 days and suspended learning in all institutions, among other stringent measures.

He also reassured Kenyans that all patients will be given full support to recover. Fear mongers, fake news peddlers and unscrupulous traders keen on hoarding essential goods and selling fake test kits have also been swiftly dealt with. Kudos.

GESTURES

But despite these grand efforts and gestures, a number of loose ends remain. First on the list is the practicality of some of the solutions recommended.

Case in point is self-quarantine and working from home, which are privileges of the middle class. The ones who can’t survive a day without leaving the house to go to a mjengo seem to have been left to their own devices.

Given that Kenya’s poverty level is back on an upswing (according to a new survey by Afrobarometer, a Pan-African, non-partisan research network) and the predictions so far on how Covid-19 will destroy the economy, every Kenyan needs government cushioning.

Second, there are two segments of people in the battlefront of the war against the virus whose needs haven’t been adequately addressed: health workers and matatu workers.

On March 16, nurses at Mbagathi Hospital went on a go-slow, citing lack of adequate coronavirus training and little support to protect their families who they go home to every evening after working near patients that are potentially suffering from the virus. Kenyans have always known there are deep cracks in the healthcare system.

Covid-19 is going to test it more severely. Experts have warned that the only way to control the virus spread is through early intervention, so there needs to be more investment in this. The other major player in this is the Transport CS James Macharia, who seems to have put the fate of millions of Kenyans in the hands of an untamed industry.

SEAT BELTS

He asked the matatu industry to invest in sanitisers and fumigate their matatus. It is absurd at best to expect matatus, which put the lives of millions of Kenyans at risk every day, to care about sanitation. According to WHO, seat belts reduce the risk of death by approximately 61 per cent, but matatus hardly provide working ones. Covid-19 death rates are at 5.7 per cent worldwide. Do the math.

Matatus may need their passengers alive but this has not stopped them from being death traps before. As it is, crews are using questionable liquids in the name of sanitisers — after all, nobody is testing their content.

The solutions seem fairly simple: The government should procure and distribute hand sanitisers at every matatu stage. If not, hand-washing stations can be mounted.

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has also announced that PSV fares can be paid from any money payment platform but what are the practicalities of this and more importantly, how will the Saccos be compelled to comply with this?
Matatu-taking Kenyans already have to contend with excoriating stares from fellow passengers who ask: “Could this be the beginning of the end?” with their eyes whenever they cough or sneeze; they don’t need to worry about leaving their fate in the hands of matatu cartels.
In this time of painful uncertainty, the government needs to show more love to its citizens by offering practical, workable solutions.

The author comments on social and gender topics. [email protected], Twitter: @FaithOneya