Using public transport to create awareness on COVID-19 – a Kenyan invention

By Stefanie Holzwarth

A picture speaks a thousand words. UN-Habitat, a partner of the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, has worked with the Matatu Welfare Association, Flone Initiative, Light Art Club, and with the support of the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) and the Kenya Urban Road Authority (KURA) on a small project – using public transport as an important communication tool in helping spread awareness on preventive measures on COVID-19.

With this project, UN-Habitat aims to support the efforts of the Kenyan Government to ensure that all necessary measures are safeguarded in public transport with regards to physical distancing and the right messaging on safety and hygiene.

UN-Habitat has been working with Government in Kenya, for several years now to introduce modern concepts of Public Transport, i.e. Bus Rapid Transport integrated with better facilities for walking and cycling. Public transport is essential for economic activities in cities and the livelihoods of people – but at the same time, it can be a means of spreading the COVID-19 pandemic. Improving the quality of public transport in cities is important and all possible measures should be taken to improve safety and prevent the spread of the disease in the existing system. The Kenyan Government has already taken important measures, such as reducing occupancy, sanitizing vehicles – and promoting cashless payment.

Kenya’s public minivans feature COVID-19 prevention art

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“Every single matatu carries around 300 people per day – that means that one sick matatu worker could infect 300 people per day. COVID-19 is here to stay with us. The message on the matatus goes beyond COVID-19 – it is going to change the overall general public health in our transport system” – Mr. George Njao, Director General of the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) during the launch event on 8 June 2020.

Mr. Njao, NTSA, during his remarks (credit: UN-Habitat)

The two painted vehicles are going to Kibera and to the Industrial Area – both areas with high population density. Ensuring safe public transport to these areas will be essential for the health of the population. Kevin Wandera, one of the vehicle owners strongly feels that preventing the disease starts with each individual. “The first person to fight the disease is me. When I meet passengers, I don’t know where they came from, I don’t know who they met, so I have to be very careful and encourage other people to follow my steps. I can be an ambassador of the messages”.

As part of the efforts to support the COVID-19 response measures by the Kenya Government, the project recognised the importance of partnerships and brought together government, local artists and matatu operators.