Okoa Mombasa condemns the Mombasa County Health Department’s decision to charge truck drivers Sh6,000 for mandatory coronavirus tests, which are required for drivers to deliver cargo to neighbouring countries.

The decision unfairly targets truck drivers, as other Mombasa County residents are being tested for free.

The lorry drivers deliver cargo across East Africa. In a month, they are required to take two tests to confirm their infection status. The test result is valid for 14 days. The first test costs Sh6,000 with subsequent tests being charged at Sh2,000 per test. Many truckers cannot afford this expense, with average monthly wages of around Sh25,000.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia on May 6 said the government will not issue a Covid-19 certificate – an essential document for crossing the border and returning to Kenya – to drivers who do not undergo the test. The Ministry of Health (MoH) announced that all Kenyan truck drivers must undergo a mandatory Covid-19 test at their point of origin.

May 11, 2020, marked the first day of the mandatory testing, but some government-designated hospitals where drivers were to be tested remained non-functional. For instance, Miritini Health Dispensary in Mombasa was closed; its last operational day was a fortnight ago. At an alternative testing centre – Public Health Department, Mwembe Tayari – health officials turned away drivers who could not pay Kshs. 6,000. Even the few who said they paid did not get tested.

The situation for truck drivers in Kenya is in sharp contrast from Uganda, where testing for cross-border drivers is free. Further, Mombasa County and MoH have been providing free Covid-19 test for county residents. It is not clear why the County is levying the cost on drivers.

While we understand the urgency and necessity of ensuring that drivers are Covid-free, it is unacceptable that they should be forced to pay for a test that is being provided free to others. The trucking industry has already endured a dramatic economic downturn in the past years, with the Standard Gauge Railway supplanting trucks as the primary method for transporting cargo from Mombasa Port.

It is instructive that the cost of testing restaurant staff and hotel workers has been reduced to Kshs. 1,000. The distinctions Government is making by levying different testing costs for different sectors is counterproductive to an effective response to Covid-19 pandemic. It is unclear the basis on which these decisions are made.

We urge the Government to provide free Covid-19 testing for anyone who requires such a test for their job, and for those who volunteer to take the test. The government should absorb the cost of all testing for Covid-19 in public facilities.

Truck drivers are already facing increasing social stigma, being perceived as spreading the Covid-19 virus. We urge the government to ensure that its actions do not exacerbate this negative perception by imposing what appear to be punitive measures against them.

We stand with our member organisations Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers Union and Kenya Transporters Association in their decision not to pay for the Covid-19 test despite remaining committed to complying with the directive to avail themselves for testing.

About Okoa Mombasa

Okoa Mombasa is a group of workers unions, businesses, civil society organisations and other individuals that have come together out of concern for the livelihoods and wellbeing of the residents of Mombasa. MUHURI is a member.