Thousands of truck drivers across Kenya have been tested for Covid-19 by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) since July in a bid to reinvigorate regional economies impacted by the pandemic.
A statement from IOM on Saturday states that billions of dollars’ worth of goods begin the final leg of their in-land journey to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo aboard transport trucks originating at the sprawling port of Mombasa.
The drivers were identified early on as a high-risk group for the spread and transmission of Covid-19. This, combined with border closures and other mobility restrictions, brought much of the trade in the region to a grinding halt.
“Previously, I have had to wait up to two weeks for my turn to cross the Kenya-Uganda border,” said a Mombasa-based Kenyan truck driver named Rashid.
“My certificate expired in the process, since the validity period is 14 days, and the experience was not pleasant as I had to be tested again spending more money and time at the border. I am hopeful that the testing for Covid-19 in Mombasa will help me obtain the clearance and transport the goods faster.”
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IOM sees the integration of Covid-19 testing and other health measures into border management systems as critical to reanimating national and local economies and blunting the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.
In July 2020, IOM says it conducted 2,570 tests at the Malaba and Busia One Stop Border Points with Uganda to clear a line-up of trucks stretching up to 90km from the border.
In June, the spread of Covid-19 among truck drivers was raising concern among health authorities, with almost 100 of them testing positive for the disease in less than a week.
Truck drivers who operate from Mombasa through the major towns on the highway and the border points with Uganda were identified as super-spreaders of the virus.
Of all the border counties, Busia was the most affected, reporting more than 60 cases in three days. The county borders Uganda in Malaba.
Spread of the disease among truck drivers took the government back to the drawing board as Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe laid bare the tricks some of them use to evade being tested and detected.
Truckers have devised ways of circumventing checkpoints undetected.
One of the tricks is using a trucker who has been tested and issued with a certificate to collect the cargo from Mombasa port for a colleague who has not been tested.
But the East Africa Community (EAC) secretariat has launched a web-based mobile application for long haul trucks.
The Regional Electronic Cargo and Driver Tracking System (RECDTS) provides a surveillance service to monitor long distance truckers and enable contact tracing.
It allows partner States to electronically share truck drivers’ Covid-19 test results, minimising the need for multiple tests in a single trip.
With the support of the Danish International Development Agency, IOM has, as of October 23, tested more than 14,200 drivers moving freight out of East Africa’s largest port, bound for nations across East and Central Africa and the Horn of Africa.
“While the pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to mobility and cross-border trade, we must ensure there is a continuous flow of economic activities while putting first the safety of people involved in the process,” said IOM Kenya Chief of Mission Dimanche Sharon.