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Kenya

Kenya activists demand education on safe disposal of Covid-19 waste

Kenya's inspector general of police aid in distributing free face masks to general public in Mombasa.
Kenya's inspector general of police aid in distributing free face masks to general public in Mombasa. © Joseph Jira
Text by: Joseph Jira
5 min

Environmentalists in Kenya have raised concerns over worsening the spread of Covid-19 due to improper disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and gloves, during the epidemic. The alarm comes days after the government made it compulsory for people to wear face masks in public, or face arrest.  

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Hamisa Zaja, secretary general of the United Green Movement, said poor disposal of contaminated PPE could see the virus spread further throughout the population.

Most Kenyans lack information on how to dispose of PPE correctly, Zaja says. “Many people are using face mask and gloves at this period. Health professionals know how to dispose of them the in right way. But while government and non-governmental organisations have been sensitising the public on importance of using PPE, they are not telling us how and when to dispose of them."

She urged the government to boost efforts to raise awareness on hygiene and to set up strategic areas for the public to dispose of face masks and gloves in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

United Green Movement secretary general Hamisa Zaja on face mask aid in distributing relief food to vulnerable families in Mombasa during Covid-19 pandemic.
United Green Movement secretary general Hamisa Zaja on face mask aid in distributing relief food to vulnerable families in Mombasa during Covid-19 pandemic. © Joseph Jira

Masks mandatory

On 15 April, the Kenyan government made wearing face masks in public mandatory. Those who do not face arrest, which raises another risk.

 “The government should tell us which face masks to use and it should have plans for distributing them to the general public, as it is a must to wear them,” Zaja says. “It is very risky for those who cannot afford standardised face masks, as some may pick up disposed masks from the road and in infect themselves.”

Pius Wesonga has been making and selling his own reusable cotton face masks in Mombasa. His vegetable business shut down when the government ordered the closure of the busy Kongowea market.

He says he has been sensitising every person who purchases his masks on how to wear it and how to dispose of them. But he says many disregard his advice and dump them anywhere.

“I always show them the right way to wear the mask,” Wesonga says. “I don’t allow customers to touch them. I sanitise their hands before they purchase and tell them they can wash it later in the day and sanitize it before using it again. But I see many of them thrown in the street which is very unhealthy.

“The government should sensitise the public because this virus has no cure. It this habit continues it will finish us all.”

‘Hard times’

Mwema Ngugi, a resident of Mombasa, says it is every citizen’s responsibility follow the health ministry’s guidelines. But he admits it is hard to purchase standardised face masks every day in order to respect the advice of using each one only once.

He has opted for using his handkerchief, which is reusable – and saves him money.

“It is very expensive buying face mask every day during these tough economic times,” he says. “My handkerchief can protect me from the virus as I wash and dry it every day.  But the government should provide masks for people like us. We are facing hard times. And if they say it everyone must wear a mask or face arrest, what do you expect, I’m going pick one up from the ground to avoid getting arrested.”

Special needs

The Kenyan government says it has developed a protocol on safe disposal of coronavirus waste to prevent infection risks. Health minister Mutahi Kagwe said the measures will be soon be implemented by the counties.

“There will be a challenge in disposing of face masks,” said Kagwe. “The ministry of health together with the ministry of environment and other government agencies have developed and circulated protocol on Covid-19 waste management to the counties for operationalisation.”

Environment activist Hamisa Zaja said the government should also be paying particular attention to those with special needs during this period of crisis. The deaf and blind, for example, may find it harder to care for themselves under the government’s restriction measures, which include a dusk till dawn curfew.

“People with special needs are at a very risky stage of contacting the virus,” she says. “For example a blind person cannot see who is coming ahead or cannot know if he is keeping the one meter social distance. Their environment should made safe for them, they should have someone trusted to help them every day. It is very easy for them to come into contact with places which are suspected to be infected with the virus,” she adds.

The health department has recently begun mass testing for Covid-19, starting with health workers.

As of 19 April, 262 cases of infection had been confirmed, 12 of whom have died.

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