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On March 25, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that his government had set aside Ksh 10 billion (c.US$ 96,000,000) to go towards cushioning the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable members of society from shocks arising from Covid-19. This is an important development that points to an age sensitive approach in planning on Covid-19.
Early data from China, where the outbreak started, suggested that older adults, especially those with preexisting medical conditions, are more likely to have severe coronavirus infection than other age groups. This is further supported by emerging research from Italy showing just how dangerous Covid-19 is for older people. An editorial of the British Medical Journalpredicts that the largest numbers of deaths will occur among older people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).[i]
In his media briefing on Covid-19 on 3 April 2020, the WHO Director-General urged governments to consider using cash transfers to overcome barriers to access. According to the Centre for Global Development, over 71 countries have cash transfer programmes in place, 54 of these initiatives were introduced specifically as a response to Covid-19.
Kenya has five cash transfer programmes; the Older Persons Cash Transfer (OPCT), the Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC), the Hunger Safety Net Program (HSNP), the Urban Food Subsidy Cash Transfer (UFS-CT), and the Persons with Severe Disability Cash Transfer (PWSD-CT).[ii] The main objectives of these programmes is to combat the triple threat of chronic poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS and to ensure that all Kenyans live in dignity and exploit their own social and economic development.
The OPCT was launched in 2006. In 2009, the ‘National Policy and Older Persons and Ageing’ was published. The policy highlighted various issues affecting the elderly. These include poverty, poor health, lack of access, harmful cultural practices to the elderly, institutional arrangements in support of the older person’s affairs and negative impact of population migration, among others.[iii] In 2010, a commitment to the rights of the elderly was enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution.[iv]
The 2010 Constitution defines old persons as people of age 60 or more years. The OPCT programme targets persons of age 65–69 years who are not beneficiaries of another cash transfer programme. Once they attain 70 years, they are transferred to InuaJamii Senior Citizens’ Scheme,a universal pension coverage for all citizens of Kenya once they reach 70 years of age.
The OPCT programme pays Ksh 2, 000 (US$ 200)per month to a household. If there are multiple older people in the household, the total payment is still only Ksh 2,000 (US$ 200). The money is sent to the elderly through cash-transfers which are delivered every two months through appointed payment agents.
To ensure that there are no third parties, beneficiaries are issued with registration cards which they are expected to present together with their identity cards to the cash-transfer agents. They are also supposed to register their biometrics during the collection of money to reduce fraud cases of money being paid to the wrong person. Without their presence, they cannot receive money.
To reduce the challenge of distance, most of the cash-transfer agents are located in neighbourhoods where the elderly people live. Almost every street in most shopping centres in Kenya has a cash transfer agent, popularly known as ‘banki mashinani’(grassroots banks).
Studies shows that the OPCT programme has a positive impact on the welfare of the older persons who are in the programme. The elderly are empowered in relation to meeting their basic needs and those of the family. It has also reduced extreme poverty of the elderly and reduced their dependency level on relatives and well-wishers. In addition, cash transfer has given the elderly purchasing power and boosted their economic growth. They are therefore able to participate in social economic activities hence reducing the income gap between the elderly and other age sets.[v]
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the question of whether handling paper money can spread the virus has become a major concern. Studies suggest that paper money is an attractive window into which germs get into contact with the human.[vi] The WHO has not issued any warnings or statements about the use of cash. Instead, it reiterates that one should wash hands, including after handling money. UNICEF Uganda cautions against handling cash whenever possible. Instead, it encourages the use of alternative payment methods such as mobile money or debit/credit cards. It also urges people to wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water after handling cash. In Kenya, many financial institutions and retail outlets are encouraging their customers to use mobile money or online banking platforms.
Various challenges could hurt efforts to curb spread of the virus. For instance, the living conditions of many of these cash transfer agents are poor, cramped, overcrowded, and regulation is weak. Availability of water is also a big challenge. This makes the implementation of measures like social distancing and washing of hands a challenge.
Insecurity is another major challenge that has prompted agent operators to adopt stringent measures to ensure their security. Some have resorted to re-enforcing their premises with metallic grills or mesh wire, leaving a small opening, just enough to pass money to customers. There is no space to allow the washing of hands or the use of sanitizers.
Many of those have managed to install water basins, but the basins are not accessible by the elderly and physically-challenged. It would require a guardian or a caregiver to assist them to get services. This may expose them to the virus in case the operators and the caregivers do not take personal responsibility.
As the Kenyan government continues to support the elderly and vulnerable members of the society through cash transfer programmes, it is important that challenges of accessibility, water shortage, insecurity, and overcrowding should also be addressed. Cash transfer agents should also be encouraged to heed the advice of the health authorities to maintain good personal hygiene, such as washing hands after handling cash and social distancing. There is also a need to start raising public awareness about the many benefits of using contactless payments.
[i]Lloyd-Sherlock, P., Ebrahim, S., Geffen, L. and McKee, M., 2020, ‘Bearing the brunt of Covid-19: older people in low and middle-income countries’, British Medical Journal.
[ii]National Gender and Equality Commission, 2014, Participation of Vulnerable Populations in their own Programmes: The Cash Transfers in Kenya,Nairobi: National Gender and Equality Commission.
[iii]Republic of Kenya, 2010, Ministry of Gender Children and Social Development, The National Policy on Older Persons and Ageing, Government Printer, Nairobi.
[iv]Republic of Kenya (2010). The Constitution of Kenya, 2010,Nairobi: Government Printer.
[v] Chepngeno-Langat, G., van der Wielen, N., Evandrou, M. and Falkingham, J., 2019, ‘Unravelling the wider benefits of social pensions: secondary beneficiaries of the older persons cash transfer program in the slums of Nairobi’,Journal of Aging Studies, retrieved April 2, 2020 from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2019.100818.
[vi]Maritz, J.M., Sullivan, S.A., Prill, R.J., Aksoy, E., Scheid, P., Carlton, J.M., 2017, ‘Filthy lucre: a metagenomic pilot study of microbes found on circulating currency in New York City’, PLoS ONE 12(4),doi: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175527.