BWIRE: Kenya must treat COVID-19 with respect and sincerity to tame the spread

By Victor Bwire

“Panic kills more than the virus. In fact, mortality rates for the virus are low, in some places only 1% or even lower, but if we collapse the economy because of panic and irresponsible actions we end up with more deaths from other diseases and challenges,” a doctor recently told me.

We were discussing the implication of the behavior of Kenyans since the outbreak of the disease, that has since caused panicky and copy-and paste-reactions by Kenyans and county governments across the country.

Many of us are concentrating and prioritizing the least interventions in the prevention and management the virus, and have to be threatened by the Government about invoking the Public Health and Public Order management Acts in order for us to take care of our own health!

Let’s do the little we can practically do instead of over promising, and acting the usual way — it’s an emergency and we must break routine and treat as such. We must stop jokes and the show-offs and do the actual work.

Kenyans must treat the war on the coronavirus with respect, sincerity, seriousness, discipline and take personal responsibility, that the lesson we are learning from China.

It’s not about what the Government is doing or what you can make out of the war on the pandemic, or merely copying what others are saying, but the little that you are actually doing to help Kenyans.

A total lock down of the country might be disastrous, including posing security risks, given that a big number of Kenyans are unemployed or earn a living from the informal economy, but what does Government do, if people are not listening and doing the required things in time of emergencies like this one?

While the issue of resources is valid and merit attention as raised by the Council of Governors, counties must show seriousness in handling and protecting citizens against this outbreak.

A number of counties have set up several isolation centres that are in deplorable state — no water, toilet, beds and any essentials, no training for health staff, while testing kits have not been acquired.

I think, in the interim, the authorities should stop expenditure on non- essential services, look at budgets like entertainment and in extreme cases organize fund raisers targeting business persons and professionals from those regions to deal with the pandemic, instead of cheating themselves and others that something is happening yet it’s just a decoy.

The purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (gowns, gloves, eye shields) and respiratory protection gears (masks, respirators) is a priority and even from the resources we generate daily locally, we can start somewhere.

While the issue of social distancing is a challenge in our contexts, but it’s the plausible way that the virus can be stopped from spreading; its worrying that in many public offices and elite places, the issue has not been taken seriously yet.

A number of buildings and offices have not installed sanitizers or created hand -washing points, people are still crowding in offices and entertainment places while very few corporates especially banks and telcos have aligned their corporate social responsibility actions on assisting the prevention of the outbreak. It is still business as usual.

A number of business operators still think fitting their premises with washing facilities such as clean water and liquid soap or alcohol – based hand sanitizer for their customers is a luxury or needs government inspection.

Workers in hotels are very worried that the sitting arrangements don’t still respect the social distance requirements by the Ministry of Health.

While some counties have taken it seriously and have mobilized health professionals from across the cadres to intensively public awareness and community involvement interventions with the little resources available, others are still stuck in lamentations. Some urgent actions like mobilizing communities to wash, dust, and disinfect homes, vehicles, gym equipment and offices, can go on.

Following reports that 13 people had sneaked into the country through Kwale county from a neighboring country, evading the health tests as required, hopefully border counties must be serious with testing and establishing working isolation centers.

More importantly because movement across borders for the locals is common for the residents do barter trade in food foodstuffs such as cereals and vegetables, thus educating them and enhancing surveillance and testing becomes a key priority. Corporates, both private and public, can refocus their CRS budgets to assist in this as an emergency.

I highly recommend media houses that understood that journalists during emergencies and war, are classified as front line workers, who are equally exposed to dangers and have put in place measures to protect their journalists through providing personal protective equipment where needed, guidelines for their staff on social distances, work from home, handling equipment and studio guests, interviews, work place trainings (I was actually invited and conducted a training for Royal Media Services journalists on safety and staying safe while reporting on the corona virus, and they have one of the best editorial and safety guidelines for their staff) among others.

Bwire is the Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya

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