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Riding for health: Motorcycle taxis deliver condoms to communities during the COVID-19 pandemic

For 25-year-old Moses Okanya, life before the COVID-19 pandemic followed a simple routine. Every morning at the crack of dawn, Moses would make his way from his home to the road-side parking spot that serves as a base for him and his fellow boda boda (motorcycle taxi) riders.  Employed by ride-hailing company SafeBoda,   Moses’ work involved transporting passengers to various destinations across Kampala and the neighboring Wakiso district. It was a routine he was used to, doing a job he loved.

Suddenly, everything changed!

On March 25, 2020, Uganda entered a nationwide lockdown, in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With the lockdown, Moses’ routine changed. He soon received instructions from SafeBoda for a rather unusual assignment:  To deliver boxes of condoms to a health facility. The condoms had been delivered to the Safe Boda offices by UNFPA’s partner AIDS Information Centre.

“I found it strange because I was used to ferrying passengers, but if people needed condoms then it was my responsibility to help them get them,” he said.

 While the lockdown has since been eased, movement restrictions on public transport are still in place, making physical access to essential services such as reproductive health services a challenge.  People are also refraining from visiting health facilities, fearing exposure to COVID-19.

Boda Boda riders, on the other hand are authorized to move, provided they are making deliveries and not carrying passengers.  UNFPA Uganda capitalized on this opportunity by expanding an existing partnership with SafeBoda to include delivery of free condoms to communities.

“I’m proud to see how dedicated Safeboda is to continue doing this important work, taking condoms closer to communities. COVID-19 has definitely brought about challenges but it has not affected our resolve to deliver a package of sexual and reproductive health and rights to women and young people,” said Mr. Alain Sibenaler, the UNFPA Representative.

With Support from the Embassy of Sweden, UNFPA is working with AIDs Information Centre to supply condoms to SafeBoda. The SafeBoda riders deliver the condoms to health centres and to community health agents including Peer Educators and Village Health Teams (Community volunteers that provide health information, mobilize clients and provide linkage to health services) in Kampala and Wakiso districts.   The community agents then move to communities and door to door distributing free condoms.

Betty Ngadaya works as a member of the Village Health Team in Bukungulu village, Sentema Parish Wakiso district and is attached to Sentema Health Centre II. Betty received a stock of free condoms delivered by Safeboda and has been distributing them to community members.

“As I walk through the trading centre I sing a song in Luganda:  ‘SafeBoda SafeBoda, who needs a helmet? Or ‘For those who feel cold I have a coat for you’,” she explains the local euphemism for condoms.

“When they hear me sing they follow me and say:  “Musawo (the word literally means Doctor but it is locally used to refer to anyone carrying medicine or medical items), I have something to tell you. Many of them are still shy to talk about using condoms but when I sing my song they understand what I mean so they come and ask questions. I also go to the houses where I know there are people who might need condoms,” Betty explains.

As of 30 June, 616,320 condoms had been distributed.


A SafeBoda driver sets off to deliver boxes of
condoms to a heath facility. ©AIC

 Both Betty and Moses speak of their role with pride.

“I am proud of my work as VHT. I feel happy because I know that my work is helping young people to protect themselves from HIV and STDS, it can save these young people’s lives,” says Betty.

“Our work with SafeBoda is helping our community because previously we would take long without receiving condoms at the health facility and young people would always tell me ‘Musawo’ we need condoms,” She adds.

 “I feel I have played a role to reach my fellow young people because if the condoms are not in the hospital then the young people are going to put themselves at risk if they don’t have anything to help them,” Moses agrees.

To further increase communities’ access to reproductive health services, SafeBoda also recently introduced Personal Health, an e-Shop that will enable users in Kampala and Wakiso districts to order and receive reproductive health commodities at their doorsteps.

The “Personal Health Shop,” is available through the SafeBoda app. Users can order condoms, contraceptives pills, HIV test kits, pregnancy test kits conveniently and privately during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

 

By Martha Songa, Cedric Muhebwa and Rakiya Abby-Farrah