Ignore anti-pandemic protocols at your peril

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 17:01 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe addresses the media at Afya House in Nairobi. Photo/PD/FILE

There is a reason to believe the government  was slow in starting the campaign against coronavirus. 

For a while it did not seem as if anything was going on, and when Cabinet Secretaries were asked to appear before parliamentary committees, they either did not show up or did not appear to have the facts.

Then came the secret filming of a Chinese plane arriving in the country that angered the nation.

It happened just as the government reorganisation brought in former Nyeri Senator Mutahi Kagwe as the new Health Cabinet Secretary. Since then, the flow of information has never been the same.

What we have not asked is what Kenyans are doing with the information they are getting from the Ministry of Health’s daily updates.

From these briefings, together with what is available on other communication platforms, there is certainly saturation of information. But what are the people doing with that knowledge?

The protective measures are clear: wash your hands with soap and water or use a sanitizer. Keep physical distance.

Isolate yourself when necessary and generally observe hygiene. Should you sense symptoms of the disease, contact the relevant authorities. But people’s behaviour is not changing. 

John-Bell Okaye is a post graduate student at the School of Communication at Daystar University.

He has been investigating whether there is change in behaviour in the light of the information that people have. 

He set his observation booth outside the main market in Ongata Rongai to assess compliance with the government’s directives.

The day after the confirmation of the first corona case, the market authorities provided a water dispenser and soap.

They even had someone to ensure that people washed their hands before entering the market.

Okoye has been at the observation booth every day for the last two weeks, spending an average of two hours daily, and recording his observations.

His findings are astounding. The guard has been pushing back anyone who tries to ignore the directive to wash their hands. On that score, there has been 100 per cent compliance.

But most people wash their hands grudgingly. Both WHO and the Ministry of Health have recommended that hand washing should last at least 20 seconds.

So Okoye has been observing how long Kenyans are taking washing their hands. So far the person who took the shortest time lasted two seconds.

Only one person in the last 15 days lasted the recommended time of 20 seconds.

The average time people took washing hands is seven seconds. This is way below the recommended 20 seconds. 

At the beginning, the market provided water and soap. But as time passed, even the market authorities relaxed.

The first to go was soap. When Okoye investigated why this was so, he was told the market was now supplying soapy water, thus no need for soap.

There was no evidence that the water had soap. When Okoye sought to know what soap was in the water, the attendant said the name was scientific and too long for him to remember.

It was only after the researcher volunteered and provided some soap that the authorities brought back soap.

This lack of compliance is not isolated. Similar reluctance has been observed in the general population. Families in Western Kenya still struggle to define nuclear family when it comes to funeral participation.

Defining who is a member of this inner circle family is a big challenge where one has four wives, several children and grandchildren yet the government is limiting the number to 15. 

It is too early in Okoye’s study to report why there is lack of compliance. But it is this second part of concern, compliance, that the government needs to focus attention and scholars help the nation to explore. That is how we will reduce this pandemic. — The writer is the dean, School of Communications, Daystar University

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