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The Cost of Compliance: Face Masks in Kenya

The Kenyan government is requiring all citizens to wear face masks while riding public or private transportation, and in other public places. A new law was recently passed: anyone in Kenya found not wearing a mask in public places is subject to arrest, with an additional penalty of Sh20,000 (roughly $200 USD), six months in jail or both. The police have been instructed to enforce this law.

Masks are not freely available to the public. The cheapest single-use masks available cost Sh70 (roughly $0.65 USD). But in a country where 45% of the population lives below the poverty line, many people can’t afford the cost.

The families we support in Kenya are not wealthy. Many of them struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life. And vulnerable populations – the pregnant, elderly, and children under 5 – are more in need of assistance than ever.

The requirement to possess a mask is posing a new challenge to these groups. Without a mask, even leaving the house to obtain medical care or food puts these people at risk of arrest. One woman from Emuktan village, Emily, said she failed to take her daughter for her third immunization since she couldn’t afford to buy a mask. By the time she was able to get a mask and visit the health center, the vaccine was no longer available.

Feed the Children is a key supporting partner to families and communities in Kenya, and we recognize the need for new kinds of help during this health crisis. Our teams are working with a tailor to make masks for children and staff that cover the mouth and nose. We are continuing to provide virtual support and guidance to our volunteers and community leaders through WhatsApp and text messaging. This is a challenging time for our teams, and for the families we help – but our work is needed more than ever to ensure we all win against this deadly disease.

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