Coronavirus: Step up public awareness


Preparations that the government is undertaking can easily be compromised by ignorance on the part of the citizenry. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, started as a health scare in China but has quickly morphed into a global emergency that has tested the world’s response mechanisms. Watching news coverage by international media demonstrated on the one hand the monumental nature of the challenge and on the other the urgency for discovery of a cure.

In the meantime, countries’ economies and the health of human beings are under severe and imminent threat.

The action by the Kenyan Government over the last one week demonstrated a recognition that, contrary to initial lacklustre public response, that the virus is real and more importantly that the country is not immune from its threat.

The fact that Kenya is a transport and economic hub in the East African region handling numerous travellers passing through the cou-try’s airport and borders daily exposes it to the threat.

The National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus has its work cut out for it to ensure that the country is ready for the eventuality that the virus may infect people within the country’s borders.

The move to make Mbagathi Hospital an isolation centre and engagement with county governments to ensure their preparedness are good steps.

Even as these actions continue, the one area that still requires more work is public awareness.

Watching international news a week ago, it was shocking to hear some visitors to one of the countries that has been hit hard by the outbreak express a level of ignorance that is scaring.

They claimed that the disease was a myth that even if it was real could only affect a certain cadre of people. Consequently, they saw no need to take any preventive measures.

Back in Kenya, the Interior ministry warned citizens against profiling or discriminating against Chinese nationals in the country on account of the outbreak.

The importance of information is constitutionally recognised and internationally affirmed. It is for this reason that civic education has become a core component of any democratic society.

Through it, information on important aspects of societal governance and affairs are shared with citizens to enable them make informed decisions and participate in activities from an informed perspective.

The most comprehensive civic education to date has been around the constitutional reform process. Initially undertaken by civil society and faith-based organisations, civic education was later formally recognised after the adoption of the 2010 Constitution as an important undertaking. I had the privilege of supporting the design of the first Kenyan National Integrated Civic Education (KNICE) programme.

While its first phase focused on awareness on the Constitution with special focus on devolution, elections, public financial management and natural resource management, the second phase identified other areas including transport safety.

The recognition was that information dissemination was imperative in the quest to improve the nature of the Kenyan society. Sadly, the work of KNICE has been very muted the last few years.

There seems to be less appetite for and appreciation of the necessity for conducting sus-tained civic education. We seem to have gone back to the era of mistaking civic education for poli-tics. It should not be so.

The levels of information that citizens have on coronavirus currently is such that the preparations that the government is undertaking can easily be compromised by ignorance on the part of the citizenry.

It is necessary that a comprehensive awareness creation programme is designed and rolled out to ensure that Kenyans have basic, accurate and consistent information on the outbreak, measures being undertaken by government and the preventive steps that every citizen should take.