Kenya

Curbing COVID-19 in Kenyan public transport

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Nyeri, Kenya — With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in Kenya more than a year after the pandemic’s arrival in the country, public health measures remain at the centre of the response. In Nyeri, a town three hours north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi and the economic hub of Nyeri County, the local government recognized early that its citizens needed a deeper understanding of the importance of such measures and how to keep putting them into practice.

In September 2020, the Nyeri County Department of Health conducted a detailed briefing on public health measures with around 50 minibus taxi drivers, supported by funding from the World Health Organization (WHO). Duncan Ndarithi, who runs a fleet of about 100 minibus taxis in Nyeri, attended the briefing and has continued to take the message to heart.

On a drizzly morning in Nyeri, the minibus stand is teeming with passengers waiting to travel into town. For most of Nyeri’s 225 000 inhabitants, minibus taxis—known locally as matatus—are the primary means of transport, offering the cheapest and most efficient way to get from A to B.

After initial lockdowns across Kenya in 2020, as the economy gradually reopened and people began to move around more freely again, the government instituted nationwide regulations for a number of essential services, which meant the matatu industry had to change.

New measures included keeping a safe distance, wearing masks, and washing hands before boarding.

“We are glad that our intervention against COVID-19 in counties like Nyeri bore fruit and that people are safer because of the engagement we had with them,” said Dr Rudi Eggers, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Kenya. “The approach was to identify those most at risk of contracting the virus and ensure that they understood the new public health measures and the rationale behind them.”

Duncan Ndarithi remains dedicated to the wellbeing of his passengers. Having learnt about the spread of COVID-19 and preventive measures such as correct mask-wearing and good hand hygiene at last year’s briefing by Nyeri County Department of Health, he is determined that his drivers and riders must always follow the rules.

“The only people we carry are the ones who have taken their temperatures, washed their hands, and have provided their contact details and are also wearing a mask,” he says.

In line with national regulations, Ndarithi makes sure that running water and soap are always available for his drivers and clients.

Margaret Ndegwa, 45, is a regular commuter on Ndarithi’s matatus.

“I feel safe and comfortable,” she says. “I don’t mind the preventive measures because between me and the next person there is always a space. It makes me feel more secure, and we are less likely to pass the virus to each other.”

Ndarithi has also added extra measures to keep his passengers safe, including sanitizing the matatus between rides.

“Those drivers who don’t follow the COVID-19 measures, we call them to the office and fine them. And if they repeat the mistake, then we let them go,” Ndarithi says. “We try to follow all the rules and do our best to help protect people.”

“The fact that Duncan and his colleagues immediately put what they’d learnt into practice shows that they’re concerned about the situation, themselves, and their clients,” said Betty Tole, WHO Risk Communications and Community Engagement Officer.

“We are glad that our efforts to join hands with key partners like WHO in fighting the pandemic in Nyeri County was fruitful,” says Dr Nelson Muriu, County Director of Health for Nyeri. “We encourage all stakeholders in the matatu industry and other public services to keep following the guidelines because this virus is still with us.”

For Additional Information or to Request Interviews, Please Contact:

Collins Boakye-Agyemang
Communications and marketing officer
Tel: + 242 06 520 65 65 (WhatsApp)
Email: boakyeagyemangc@who.int