National Governments should take lead on COVID-19 situation along Eastern African borders

It will be interesting to establish what the IGAD countries are doing jointly in collaborating to enforce measures

In Summary

• A number of positive Corona Virus cases recorded in Uganda and Rwanda is reported were from truck drivers who moved through the border points of mutukula, Busia and Malaba. 

• How are the public officers dealing with the issue of movement of people, livestock and animal products will increase the risk for infectious disease emergence and spread along the borders?

Passengers being screened at the Tana River bridge before boarding a bus to Nairobi
COVID-19: Passengers being screened at the Tana River bridge before boarding a bus to Nairobi
Image: /STEPHEN ATARIKO

National Governments should take lead in the surveillance and management of COVID-19 pandemic interventions along East African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Kenya as a matter of urgency.

A number of positive Corona Virus cases recorded in Uganda and Rwanda is reported were from truck drivers who moved through the border points of mutukula, Busia and Malaba.

While, given that importance of allowing cargo across the border in the fight against the pandemic, thus stopping cargo movement is almost unthinkable, the management of mobile populations is critical and needs a regional approach.  

In addition to the challenges that have exposed border residents to the COVID-19 pandemic, the slow movement of mobile populations as seen through the long truck queues in Busia and Malaba stretching several Kilometers that allow see the drivers interacting with locals as they wait for clearance, guys are using illegal routes to cross over the borders for whatever reasons while in some instance places, some people have families on both sides of the border, and observing the cessation of movements  directive  is  a challenge, halting transit of cargo via roads just the same way air travel was restricted as a stop-gap measure to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 is not feasible for now.

Experts have previously raised the issue of challenges in the region relating to health – now with COVID-19 outbreak- what is coming out in terms of poor coordination across borders and sectors; limited public health surveillance; a limited and poorly distributed health workforce; and insufficient and unpredictable financing to provide quality services.

It will be interesting to establish what the IGAD countries are doing jointly in collaborating to enforce measures along and across the borders- what the joint interventions and the gaps/challenges and or best practices that are being learnt.

Diseases know no borders and efficiencies can be gained by acting collectively to address the risks posed by an increasingly mobile population. Health system development, both regionally and nationally, is dependent on sustainable solutions to entrenched health system challenges.

How are the public officers dealing with the issue of movement of people, livestock and animal products will increase the risk for infectious disease emergence and spread along the borders?

Are their any innovative, multi-sectoral solutions to the complex associations among infectious disease emergence, population, climate change and economic growth along the borders?

While so far the country's positive cases even in the border counties in Kenya (Kwale, Kajiado, Mandera) have not been related to border movement, in Busia the county leadership has asked of re routing of transit cargo, in Moyale, they had dug a trench along the border, Mandera has the border wall, Kwale and Kajiado leaders have requested for national government support to their medical teams, more concerted interventions from the national government is critical.

Its possible to find alternative ways of ferrying transit cargo to Uganda and other Great Lakes Region including re-routing of all transit cargo to the old railway line or use of cargo planes, this will be transferring a problem. We need to handle it.

How is this being handled – and what are the lessons each country can learn from the other- in terms of handling the outbreak? How is the social intelligence working in Uganda as a tool for tracing down suspected primary contacts while Kenya seems unable to deal?

Uganda, using a very strong social surveillance system has managed to track down or report cases- the level of obedience to Government directives seem very high and through social intelligence networks, they seem to have managed to deal with minimizing numbers of infections.

In Kenya, through corrupting law enforcement agents, people have managed to bribe their way out of quarantine centers or move in and our of areas where the government announced cessation of movement measures including going across the borders.

National Government interventions and support to the local administration should be a key priority in the on-going COVID-19 pandemic approach.

Regional Organizations should support such cross border interventions as special support to mobile populations, including truck drivers, lake transporters, sex commercial workers, refugees and clans/families that cut across the borders, especially through education and PPEs.

I am told sex commercial workers have adopted and now doing it mostly doing to day, ask their clients to wash their hands and use face masks, as they grapple with the challenge of keeping social distance.

Screening and testing should be heightened as the national government extends priority support to the county government while security surveillance along the borders is professionalized.

Border communities must be helped to cope with the situation as provided for under the Africa Cross Border Convention (Niamey Convention) provisions.

Interventions should be extended to cover fisher communities residing on Islands in our water bodies who are rarely reached.

The Writer works at the Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya