They left home and journeyed downwards under different circumstances, most of them with one motive in mind, economic gains but are currently faced with this new and unexpected challenge of coronavirus. These people are usually confronted with inadequacy of housing, food, employment and in some cases language barrier and fear accessing healthcare. Unable to find the desired job, couple with little or no skills become head porters also known in local palance as ‘kaayayei’ as a survival strategy. Kaayayei’s are mostly found in the commercial cites Ghana, not limited to Accra, Tema and Kumasi. Today many people including kaayayei across the nations of the globe are learning to cope with fear, disruption and discomfort caused by this deadly virus.
Although public education on coronavirus is on-going making everyone talk about it and posters explaining how one should protect themselves, the information out there is not adequate enough to be internalised by majority of Ghanaians. For instance we have not demonstrated proper hand-washing on available media channels, we are not told the nature and frequency of coughing and sneezing making any person who cough or sneeze attracting attention as if they are the virus. We have also not made people aware that not wearing nose mask is more dangerous than not washing hands.
While the number of COVID-19 cases in Ghana is increasing, though relatively slow cogent measures are being taken to contain the spread nationwide. As market centres and lorry parks have been fumigated. We continue to practice social distancing in public transport and places as well as restrictions on movement in and out of areas under lockdown.
To a large extent Ghana deserves commendation for working hard to ensure the vulnerable including kaayayei found within the lockdown areas of Accra, Tema and Kumasi are protected. According to the Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister, Cynthia Morrison, “government is providing food and shelter for about 15,000 head porters popularly known as ‘kaayayei’’. The immediate inclusion of kaayayei in our national response to COVID-19 not only demonstrates humanitarian gesture, but also relevant to public health policy strategic measure and respect for fundamental human rights. We are all at risk, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, residing in urban or rural area, married or unmarried, hence the need for all persons including kaayayei to be allowed equal access to healthcare services, including prevention, testing and treatment.
Government’s effort at providing food, shelter and cash of five hundred cedis to all 15,000 head porters in itself is a good gesture to preventing the spread of COVID-19. The associated threat posed by this virus makes it even more urgent to transform these shelters into production hub. Kaayayeis at these centres can be empowered to go into mass production of face masks, personal protective equipment, liquid and tablet soap and other disinfectant for use. This not only reduces public expenditure on such commodities, also gradually push them (Kaayayei) into livelihood empowerment programme of a sort. We would have encouraged majority of them into income generating activity and retire them from their current predicament when this pandemic is over. However, a lot will depend on how government and relevant stakeholders take advantage of the situation to transform the lives of many kaayayei into productive sectors of the economy.
Again, government through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection should can institute a voluntary return mechanism for these kaayayei wishing to join their families and loved ones. However, the implementation of such a programme should be consistent with virus-related directives by the state such as waver of restrictive movement among others.
For those in shelters or camps may I be quick to say overpopulation makes it extremely difficult to take necessary precautionary measure against the deadly virus such as social distancing and exclusive hygiene. It is therefore proper we provide appropriate guidelines to such people on how to protect themselves against possible infection.
BY FRANK OFOSU-ASANTE