Overall, prevalence of helmet use in Kenya remains extremely low for various reasons. Some that can be addressed with a sustainable and continuous campaign on education and sensitization of riders. Others will involve the policy makers and enforcement authorities. While we have been grappling with these issues, the corona pandemic has eroded the small wins we had achieved.
Moto taxis commonly known as Boda Boda in East Africa, being the highly affected sector, are a popular means of transport in the developing countries which include countries in Africa and Asia. In the cities, they are used to avoid traffic while in the county side they are used to reach where cars cannot reach due to poor road conditions. They are also cheaper than other modes of transport and millions of people use them on daily basis and they also provide a source of income to equally a large population.
There have been measures being put in place in the transport industry such as in the airlines, trains and buses. WHO (World Health Organization) issued guidelines especially on international traffic and encourages governments, communities and the society to take ownership of and participate in the response and preventing cases through hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and social distancing. In addition, sectors should evaluate their risks and find appropriate measures to implement to protect their communities.
Majority of commuters have resulted to using more of Moto taxis (boda bodas) as they consider them to provide more social distancing (due to only two people are licensed to ride on a motorcycle) compared to other public transport where the numbers of occupants are high. This may be the case if both the rider and the pillion wear their masks inside their helmets and keep the helmets closed. However, the proximity of the rider and the pillion is a challenge since it is not possible to keep the recommended 6ft between persons and hence can not be a safe distance. The economic recession, has largely contributed to this choice as Moto taxis are cheaper than any other mode of transport.
Transmission of covid has moved from international/foreign travelers to local community transmission and various governments have put together some operating procedures for the moto taxi (Boda Boda) sector in addition to other modes of transport in a bid to reduce the transmission. In Kenya, the government ordered each boda boda operator to carry only one passenger and they must wear face masks to avert contracting and spreading the coronavirus in the line of duty. It is common to see more than one passenger on a moto taxi. In Uganda, the operating procedures are much more stringent which includes gazetted Boda Boda zones, registering of all Boda Boda operators, collection of passengers personal details incase of contact tracing and wearing of mask in addition to personal hygiene.
What everyone seems to have ignored is the overall safety of both the rider and passenger. With the prevalent fear of contracting the corona virus, passengers have resulted to not wearing helmets. Failure to address the hygiene and use of helmets has resulted to a drastic reduction in helmet use by passengers/pillions. This is because the passengers/pillions share one helmet provided by the riders. A moto taxi can transport more than 20 passengers in a day. This therefore means one helmet is used by more than 20 people in a day and more than 600 people in a month which poses a huge risk of contracting Covid due to body fluids possibly left by different passengers on the helmet through breathing, sneezing or coughing directly on to the helmet inner lining. The body contact with the helmet lining is unavoidable if one does not wear a mask and a protective liner before wearing the helmet. Unfortunately the passengers do not wear this protective lining or the mask. The riders also do not wash these helmets regular and even then, it is impossible to wash them after every passenger use.
Covid prevention in this sector must include the helmet, masks and hygiene. A rider and passenger who is wearing a mask and helmet is the safest person in terms of contacting covid and incase of an accident.
Below is a video to watch for the demonstration of how to wear your shared helmet and share it with others who use the Boda Boda or ride Boda Boda so that we can make our motorcycle transport sector safe.