The COVID-19 pandemic has been immensely challenging for all people and sectors of South Africa, and it will have a lasting impact on our country as well as the globe. How we respond to the current crisis today and come together in creating safe passages will pave the way for how we, as a nation, will uplift ourselves in the future.
Moving a nation – Taxis keeping the economy afloat
Each of us has been challenged to redefine how and where we work, socially interact, and how we respond to the economical, emotional and physical hardships that SARS-COV-2 has brought to our doorstep. It has been difficult for private businesses and citizens alike to know the most effective channels to support and assist (and indeed identify) those most in need.
As public health specialists, we are constantly seeking the best and most effective mechanisms to improve the health of our communities and our country. This pandemic has inspired us to think outside of the box, to embrace innovations and collaborations with groups we have not traditionally engaged, with the intent to save lives and livelihoods. Given that our economy is driven (literally!) by an often-overlooked sector, we are leading the charge for all efforts to intervene, and help us to provide support to assist in ensuring that health and wellbeing is prioritised by creating safe passages.
Creating Safe Passages
Concurrently we as a country have the ability to implement a meaningful and long term health initiative that will prevent the onward transmission or acquisition of airborne diseases, while simultaneously supporting the public, many of whom rely upon commuter taxis and other public transport mechanisms.
The vision for safer taxis was begun independently through the work of the Supplier Development Initiative’s Force programme, supported by First National Bank, and has now been handed over to the African Potential Foundation to expedite rollout with a scientific basis. Given the overlapping aims between our project, the African Potential Foundation adopted the Safe Passage teams in July 2020 to provide a scientific perspective and drive health innovation.
The Safe Passage initiative is an intervention with the immediate aim of reducing COVID-19 transmissions in commuter taxis. South Africa has approximately 250,000 taxi vehicles that cater to 15 million daily commuters. These commuters include domestic workers, healthcare workers, and frontline workers like shop assistants that everyone shares immediate spaces with on a daily basis. We want to not only ensure that airflow and particle dynamics are appropriately understood to be effectively combatted, but that a long-term intervention is developed that will address more than just COVID-19.
Through a partnership with taxi associations, various media houses, corporate funders, and an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg, the initiative is geared towards reducing the onward transmission of COVID-19, TB, and seasonal influenza, thus decreasing the risk for both commuters and drivers.
Partnering for African Potential
We envisage that vehicles will be monitored on a real-time basis to ensure that we can rapidly make adjustments and improvements to the commuter safety programme. The initiative also seeks to disrupt knowledge dissemination in the country by ensuring that appropriately tailored health information is freely available in taxis and taxi-ranks for all commuters.
The immediate impact of the initiative is to facilitate the flattening of the COVID-19 curve through sanitising taxis, providing high quality fabric masks as part of the #heroeswearmasks campaign, and access to information that is accessible and easily understood in order to guide sustainable behavioural change. Ultimately its long term success will be assessed by its ability to reduce the burden of airborne diseases.
Public transport and public health
The African Potential Foundation aims to support African-driven innovations and people with the potential to create meaningful change: we believe that in the midst of this crisis, South Africa stands on the precipice of creating meaningful change that will positively impact many millions of people. This is an opportunity to redefine how we disseminate health information, to ensure that every person has access to free connectivity, allowing them to engage in the knowledge economy.
The arrival of COVID-19 has not only highlighted the socio-economic divide in our country, but it has broadened it. We have an opportunity to make a meaningful difference and to change the current and future health trajectory of our nation.
We challenge big businesses across South Africa to come on board and support the Safe Passage Initiative for the wellbeing of our citizens, and our economy.
The African Potential Foundation can be visited on www.africanpotential.com and the #heroeswearmasks campaign, aimed at masking up 18.5 million South African residents in high-risk areas, can be engaged at www.heroeswearmasks.co.za.