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Where are the masks government promised students?

By Augustine Oduor | January 21st 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

 

Pupils in class at Oloolua Primary School in Ngong Town on Thursday, Jan 7, 2020. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Questions have emerged over the fate of masks from the Ministry of Health that were to be distributed to needy school children.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, after a multi-sectoral committee meeting on January 3, said seven million-odd masks would be made available to learners when schools re-open.

“The Ministry of Education, in collaboration with various partners, including the Ministry of Health, will avail seven million masks for the most vulnerable children, including those from low-income backgrounds,” Magoha said.

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KCB Group donated one million masks and another 700,000 provided by United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Ministry of Health was to make available some five million masks.

Almost three weeks after schools re-opened, it is emerging that the masks that Ministry of Health promised to deliver are yet to reach schools.

National officials of primary and secondary school heads said schools have only received masks distributed by non-governmental organisations, Unicef and from KCB Group through Ministry of Education.

Mutahi Kagwe, the Health Cabinet Secretary said the masks would be distributed on needs basis.

“They will not be delivered in one batch. They are delivered on need basis over time,” Kagwe said.

Quality of masks

But sources who attended the January 3 meeting said the masks were to be delivered in bulk to Ministry of Education for subsequent distribution to schools.

Another meeting of the multi-sectoral committee held last week to review re-opening measures after one week of classes did not mention the masks from the Ministry of Health.

Only masks donated by Unicef and KCB Group were mentioned in the meeting.

Magoha and his counterparts Sicily Kariuki (Water, Sanitation and Irrigation), Joe Mucheru (ICT) and Fred Matiang'i (Interior) attended the meeting.

CS Kagwe did not attend meeting. Transport CS James Macharia sent a representative. Magoha did not respond to inquiries about the masks.

But a preliminary report tabled during the meeting held on Monday last week indicated that 100 per cent of children in schools already had masks, raising questions about the need to procure the masks for schools.

The findings of the preliminary report resonates with national parents association and primary school heads that says all children are masked up.

“A survey across all schools reveals there all children are masked up. The challenge we have is the quality of masks being used because the market is now flooded with substandard gadgets,” said Nicholas Maiyo, the national chair of the parents association.

Primary school heads also said all children have masks and noted that the challenge is teaching them to use the protection well.

A teacher at Green Valley Academy in the outskirts of Kisii Town adjusts a mask to PP1 pupil on January 4, 2021, during the reopening of schools. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

“Even in cases where there are no masks, headteachers have one or two masks somewhere that they can give to the children,” said Nicholas Gathemia, the chair of Primary School Heads Association.

Sector players familiar with the mask distribution intrigues questioned who is creating the need for the protective equipment.

Questions on source of data used to project the need for five million masks have also arisen.

The insiders also hinted to The Standard that details are not clear on the criteria of distribution of the protective wear.

Whether a budget was set aside to buy the masks and if the procurement shall be done by the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Education is also not clear.

The initial plan for the government to procure masks for all learners was dropped after it emerged that the government will requires at least Sh1.1 billion to provide two masks per child.

Details in The National Treasury and Planning Post-Covid-19 Economic Recovery Strategy (2020-2022) revealed that under the current financial year, Sh500 million would be spent to supply masks, soap and sanitisers to primary schools.

Another Sh600 million would be used in the next financial year for a similar exercise.

Worried parents

According to the document, Sh1 billion would be used in the next two years to supply masks in secondary schools. If the plan was to be implemented, the initial Sh800 million would be spent this financial year with the balance used in the next fiscal year.

Parents have, however, been asked to buy masks as part of school uniform.

A long queue outside the Equity Bank in Nyeri Town where many parents rushed to pay school fees for their children. On January 4, 2020. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Maiyo raised questions on the quality of masks and noted that parents are worried.

“We are surely worried because we have masks of all sorts of quality in the market and even in schools. Parents are just buying masks from anywhere provided they are cheap,” Maiyo said.

He said a plan to make available quality masks from National Youth Service, Kitui County Textile Centre or Rivatex East Africa in Eldoret would be ideal.

“If our children could have quality masks, we would be comfortable at home,” Maiyo said.

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