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Rapid COVID-19 Tests for Kenyan Truckers Revive African Economies

FILE - Trucks drive along the main road from the port city of Mombasa in the outskirts of Kenya's capital, Nairobi, March 4, 2016.

The International Organization for Migration is providing rapid COVID-19 tests to thousands of truck drivers across Kenya as part of an effort to reinvigorate regional economies in Eastern and Central Africa.

Much of Africa’s multibillion-dollar cross-border trade has been halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Truck drivers identified as a high-risk group for spreading the virus have to be tested for coronavirus before they can deliver their goods.

That has resulted in thousands of truckers being stuck at Kenya’s sprawling port in Mombasa, awaiting test results that could take up to two weeks. Trucks at the port carry cargo destined for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Paul Dillon, a spokesman for the IOM, told VOA the drivers cannot leave the port until their COVID-19 tests come back negative. He said that had created economic hardships for the drivers.

“When you have drivers who are operating on very thin profit margins, who are driven by an imperative to deliver their product from Mombasa port to these far-flung countries — any moment, any time that is spent sitting at the border waiting for either test results to come back or for issues related to visas and other mobility issues that have been implemented at the border is money out of their pockets,” he said.

Dillon said the turnaround time for COVID-19 test results administered by the IOM to truckers was between 24 and 36 hours. He said IOM staff had tested more than 17,000 drivers since July and that that had made a huge difference.

“The impact is quite astonishing. Where once one had 90-kilometer traffic jams at a border, now there is a relatively freer flow of goods out of the port of Mombasa to countries in the region," he said.

Dillon said about 2 percent of all test cases were coming back positive. He said Kenya’s Ministry of Health assesses the seriousness of the cases and determines whether medical intervention is required or home quarantine measures are more appropriate.