Photo: A passenger washing hands using the new device before boarding a public service vehicle at Muangatsi Market Centre Bus Stage, Busia County, Kenya. Credit: Kevin Wafula. - Photo: 2020

Kenyans Are Innovative in Finding Ways to Fight COVID-19

By Justus Wanzala

BUSIA, Kenya (IDN) – It is a hot afternoon at a bus station at Mungatsi market centre, Nambale Sub-County, in Busia County, Western Kenya. Many people, many travellers, are queuing to wash their hands. Each person is maintaining a distance from the other as they wash their hands and board public service vehicles heading to their various destinations.

Hand washing before boarding public service vehicles and maintaining social distance are new practices that Kenyans are constrained to observe. They have been declared mandatory by health authorities as a safety measure to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Nevertheless, a quick look at how they are washing their hands reveals something novel. The passengers are washing hands using sanitation equipment that has pedals which when pressed with a leg ejects water from a bucket on a metal stand and liquid soap directly on their hands. This enables them to wash their hands without touching any part of the equipment.  

The equipment is an innovation of two young men from the county. They improvised the device to enable people to wash their hands safely. The two, Bernard Dindi and Christopher Butsunzu, have no technical training except high school education. They say that they were motivated to design the device after noticing challenges of maintaining hygiene following the outbreak of COVID-19.

They then did research on the internet to develop a hand-washing device that could aid in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

As they worked on their idea, the country was witnessing a sharp rise in infections shortly after confirmation of the first case on March 13, 2020. Indeed, the infection rates have continued to grow exponentially with the infected reaching 296 and 74 recoveries by April 21, 2020.

The duo reiterates that the device lowers the risk that faces people using ordinary sanitizers. “Normally, when people wash or sanitize their hands, they have to touch the bottles with sanitizer and water taps. We saw the danger they face of contracting and spreading the virus,” they explained.

While using the device, one only presses the first pedal situated underneath the machine and sanitizing liquid comes out and then presses the second pedal to eject water.

Dindi says they decided to place the first device at the local market centre’s bus park for use by the public free because they realized the area has many people who risked infection. “It is an area with high human traffic that is why we thought the equipment would be helpful,” says Dindi.

He adds that many people find it user-friendly.

“I have been using it daily since it was installed. I find it convenient to use,” says Anne Nekesa, a trader at Mungatsi market.  “We are amused by the technology these youths have developed. This is so impressive, and we are happy about it. We feel safe to wash our hands,” says John Wandera, a bus operator.

The young men say the devices cost them at least ten thousand Kenya Shillings (USD 100) and several days to make.

Buoyed by the positive response from users, they intend to make more and distribute them across the country.

“We’ve just managed to make a few because of limited resources. But if we secure financial support, we’ll make more,” they stress.

Both members of the public and county officials have welcomed the device.

Busia county chief officer for health and sanitation, Isaac Omeri hails the device noting that it will help a great deal in the war against COVID-19, “This is unique equipment which minimizes chances of one contracting the virus while washing and sanitizing their hands,” he observes.

He has already bought six of the devices, which will be used in various health offices within the county.

Indeed, as Kenya puts in place measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, innovation seems to be a preferred path.

Early this April, Kenyatta University, based near Kenya’s capital Nairobi, announced that it had developed a ventilator that could save lives of victims of the coronavirus.

Ventilators are crucial equipment for coronavirus patients who develop difficulty in breathing. Unfortunately, they are only a handful in Kenya.

As a result, university students came up with a prototype called Tiba Vent (Tiba is the Swahili word for a treat).

Some 16 students from different faculties developed the prototype, a cubical unit made of hard silver plastic parts with pipes connecting to an oxygen tank and two other pipes delivering the air.  It also linked to a computer monitor. The university’s Vice-Chancellor, Paul Wainaina said the university could produce 50 ventilators a week.

Moreover, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) also started manufacturing COVID-19 rapid test kits early April to hasten to test of COVID-19. The institute has a production unit capable of making diagnostic testing kits and hand sanitizers.

Several companies are also making facemasks for use by the public and medical personnel as well as Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs), which a few months ago was imported.

Besides, the government has put in place a multifaceted COVID-19 containment strategy involving a raft of measures. It has heightened surveillance at all points of entry, health facilities and communities across the country. It has stopped people from travelling out and into four of the 47 counties in the state and initiated targeted mass testing in areas with a high number of COVID-19 incidents.

Members of the public too have been encouraged to remain vigilant given that the risk is still high and advised to continue taking precautionary measures by maintaining first-hand and respiratory hygiene, safe food practices, maintain social distancing and avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.

Meanwhile, wearing of masks in public places has been declared compulsory while all institutions of learning have been closed. Also banned are public and private meetings that involve crowding of people.

Already, Kenya shillings two Billion (USD 200m), has been allocated to fight COVID-19. centres for handling patients have also been established in all the country’s 47 counties although many faces the challenge of necessary equipment. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 April 2020]

Photo: A passenger washing hands using the new device before boarding a public service vehicle at Muangatsi Market Centre Bus Stage, Busia County, Kenya. Credit: Kevin Wafula.

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This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 27 April 2020.

This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence. You are free to share, remix, tweak and build upon it non-commercially. Please give due credit.

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