KENYA – A broad alliance of Kenyan companies has launched Safe Hands Kenya to deploy free soap, hand sanitizer, surface disinfectant and masks to all Kenyans, as a first line of defence against COVID-19.

The alliance includes technology-based distribution companies, input suppliers, manufacturers, media houses and community organisations and has assembled a full-time project team that includes experts across supply chains, user experience and behavioural change.

All members have pledged to uphold three key principles: 1) zero margin: this is for impact, not profit; 2) speed is critical: every day counts; and 3) last-mile saturation: we leave no-one behind.

The Alliance said that a nationwide marketing campaign will be rolled out in parallel, to motivate behaviour change and inform people about practical and immediate measures they can take to stay safe and slow the spread of the virus.

This initiative is a homegrown blueprint for the particular challenges presented by COVID-19 in Kenya and other developing countries.

Extreme social distancing measures being implemented around the globe are very difficult to implement within the African context, where many families live in close proximity and need to leave their homes to work in order to meet the basic needs of their families.

The alliance has built a geospatial demand and supply allocation map and collectively distributes basic goods efficiently and transparently – using technology – to hundreds of thousands of small retailers, within reach of all Kenyan households.

“Rapid mass sanitation of hands and surfaces combined with adoption of masks is a pragmatic and scalable strategy in the Kenyan context,” Andrew Waititu, CEO of Safe Hands Kenya CEO, and former CEO of GE Healthcare East Africa, said.

“Whilst our initial focus is Kenya, we are developing an actionable blueprint for other countries facing similar challenges so they can adapt our learnings to their context and accelerate speed to market.

“Our intent is to scale and sustain Safe Hands Kenya’s operations for as long as they are needed, and we welcome additional funding and capability partners who can accelerate the impact of our approach.”

While the impact of COVID-19 could be devastating, the Alliance believes that the immediate provision of the tools for rapid mass sanitation (soap, hand sanitizer, surface disinfectant and face masks), along with the motivation and behaviour change education to adopt and use them regularly, is the most effective way to keep people safe and society functioning.

Member companies of the initiative have commenced distribution and will scale over the coming weeks and months.

“I endorse Safe Hands Kenya – keeping hands clean by washing with soap and water or by using a hand sanitizer is a most effective way of stopping the transmission of Coronavirus. COVID-19 is a challenge of an entirely new magnitude so the boldness of thinking and the pace of action by the Safe Hands Kenya alliance is both necessary and welcome,” said Dr Ahmed Ogwell, Deputy Director of Africa CDC.

The actions up and down Safe Hands Kenya’s supply chain will also spur economic activity and act as a stimulus for Kenyan families working within local manufacturing and supply chains.

Longer-term, the initiative will also improve the overall state of hygiene practices, with concomitant benefits for other sanitation-related diseases and deaths.