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Safaricom launches disease outbreak alert service

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 AGGREY OMBOKI

By AGGREY OMBOKI
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Safaricom has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Korea Telecom to launch a new service that will alert subscribers on disease outbreaks whenever they travel abroad.

Dubbed Safiri Smart, the service which is free for all Safaricom users can be accessed by pressing *265# and then opting for the information to be provided in English or Swahili.

The service, which is already up and running, will be accessible to most mobile phone users as it is based on USSD technology, that sends alerts to one’s phone through text messages or SMS.

Subscribers will be automatically alerted by SMS through the firm’s roaming service once they cross the borders of a country with an ongoing infectious disease outbreak.

Announcing the launch in Nairobi on Friday, Safaricom Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Steve Chege said it was important for businesses to create products that work for the wellbeing of the societies in which they operate.

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“We are in an era where we should go beyond our business licenses and use technology to improve the society. Businesses must take care of the communities where they work by innovating for the greater good,” said Mr Chege.

Mr Chege said around 1.4 million Kenyans regularly travel in and out of the country, with the majority visiting destinations around the East African region.

He said the service enables users who travel to foreign countries to know which outbreaks have been reported, what to do in case they experience symptoms and directs them on which health facilities and medics to contact for treatment.

In a speech read at the Friday on her behalf by CAS Dr Rashid Aman, Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said the country was at risk of experiencing infectious disease outbreaks due to its central location that made it a major transit point for people from all over the globe.

Ms Kariuki said the incorporation of mobile technology in providing information on infectious disease outbreaks would be a great tool in combating their spread.

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“Kenya is a major transport hub and the risk of contracting a notifiable infectious disease while crossing the borders is high. Mobile phones can be a great tool in promoting public health. We are therefore pleased with this partnership that will increase the scale of disease surveillance in Kenya,” said Ms Kariuki.

Korean Ambassador Choi Yeonghan said the project was the service is part of Korea Telecom’s Global Epidemic Prevention Project aimed at helping the health ministry prevent the entry and transmission of infectious diseases such as Ebola in the country.

Mr Yeonghan hailed the projects as another sign of cordial relations between the two nations dating back to 1964, adding that it would be a welcome boost to Kenya’s effort to achieve universal health coverage.

“If the government can properly utilise all the information gathered for the project, it will be a good source for Kenyans to understand what is happening in the field of epidemic diseases,” said Mr Yeonghan.

Currently, the DRC is experiencing an Ebola outbreak, which has affected over 3000 people, of which about two thirds have died. In the neighbouring Uganda, four cases have so far been reported.

“New disease threats can originate in far-off places, increase quickly and have global impact in matter of days. Examples are the Zika virus in Brazil and the plague outbreak in Madagascar,” he said.

Dr Aman said the project, which is in the pilot phase is currently sponsored by the Korean Government and Safaricom, but added that the ministry would eventually take over after its two and a half year period elapsed.

Head of Disease Surveillance at the ministry Dr Daniel Langat said the service is currently available to Safaricom subscribers but said the department was in talks with other arms of government including the ICT ministry to ensure that all Kenyans can eventuall, use it.

“We are working on issue around the Data Protection Act to ensure that all Kenyans can one day access it because disease surveillance is not selective,” said Dr Langat.

He said the system was designed to operate across the networks, and said the other telco operators including Airtel would be roped in to provide the service to their clients.

Dr Langat added that plans were underway to expand the service to provide local travellers with alerts when heading into outbreak zones within the country.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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