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Inmates at Eldoret GK prison. [Peter Ochieng/Standard]

Health & Science
Prisoners say they lack soap and tissue paper after government banned all visits to correctional institutions.

Kenyans are sitting on a time bomb unless some weak links in the fight against coronavirus are quickly fixed.

The difficult fight against the virus is made more complicated and riskier within the crowded jails, where hand-washing with soap and exercising social distancing in the relatively small blocks and cells are still a mirage and may cost the country dearly.  

Breeding grounds

Already, there have been some grumblings from some of the 118 prisons which are holding an estimated 54,000 convicted criminals. In one cell of about 17 by 10 feet, there are between 56 and 63 people. 

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“Since the government banned visits to prisons by outsiders two weeks ago, our lives have become hell.

“The prison ordinarily does not provide us with soap, toothpaste and tissue paper. This has always been done by relatives. Now they are no longer allowed to see us,” an inmate from Kamiti told Saturday Standard.

On Tuesday, a group calling itself Concerned Inmates - Kenya Prisons wrote to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) through the officer in charge Kamiti Prisons complaining that the jails were a perfect breeding ground for the virus.

In an earlier communication, Correctional Services PS Zeinab Hussein announced a raft of measures on screening of inmates and prison staff and restriction of movement and contacts in the staff quarters and prisons.

She also explained that hand washing stations had been established at all facilities while Athi River GK Prison had scaled up its production to ensure uninterrupted supply of soaps, detergents and sanitisers.  

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Sources in prisons however indicated that prisoners had not been provided with soap or any other form of sanitiser to enable them deal with the viral flu. 

Away from prisons, an estimated 1.3 million boda boda riders have decided to cast away the helmets meant for their passengers for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

The boda boda operators said they are torn between risking infecting their customers by offering them unsanitised helmets or breaking the traffic law which insists that every passenger must wear the protective gear. “There is no way we can sanitise a helmet,” Kenneth Onyango, the secretary general of the Boda Boda Association of Kenya explained. 

The alternative, Onyango said, was for regular boda boda customers to buy their own helmets.

Meanwhile, some salons and barbers have established strict rules for their clients to avoid contracting the disease.

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Mobile money

“I am only dealing with clients I know. I live in an area where there have been fears of coronavirus,” Mirriam Muthoni said.

The beautician who runs a salon in Utawala, Nairobi, now insists to be paid through mobile money transfer.

When a client insists on paying cash, she has resorted to using methylated spirit to sanitise the paper currency before touching with her gloved hands. 

And while the government has directed that the tuku tuk public service operators carry only one passenger, a spot check in parts of the city and it’s environs has shown that the interior of this vehicle had no adequate space to actualise social distancing.

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Kenneth Ogoi, who operates in Athi River, said while he is uncomfortable with his clients breathing down his neck, there is nothing he can do.

“I am not comfortable with the space inside a tuk tuk in these times of the coronavirus. But at the end of the day, I must earn a living,” he said.

But even as Kenyans scramble for alcohol-based sanitisers to keep the virus at bay, Dr Susan Kaguchia told listeners in a vernacular radio station to be extremely careful not to apply them in their kitchens.

Most sanitisers in the market, Kaguchia said, are highly explosive and could easily catch flames if applied near a fire.

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