Odongo Odoyo

Topical Commentary

With Odongo Odoyo

My intention is to share with our readers the finding of a friend who works at one of the leading facemasks production company, Kassim Umar whose work entails getting quality materials for public consumption. Umar left his RAK Media Office to go out on a fact finding mission on how the masks were being produced locally and other sources which brings them in the country. His findings are self-explanatory and for public consumption as herein below.

“In recent months, many African nations have issued advisories to wear masks in public settings, and the latest advice is to wear a facemask in public transport and some shops, many people are still not wearing facemasks despite official advice from the government. Recently putting on a facemask every day before you go out is like a ritual, similar to putting on a uniform, and in ritual behavioral which clearly indicates the sense of belonging to certain echo system, which is more hygienic behavior like not touching your face or avoiding crowded places and social distancing.”

When we heard in other countries how fast the pandemic was spreading, we thought about how we could use our resources despite of our usual printing business in the market to help prevent the spread of virus in South Sudan. We did some quick studies and decided to make masks instead, knowing that the country was over stretched in terms of supply and mask affordability.

We decided to compose a team of qualified 50 tailors to sew the cotton masks and since the production of masks began on 27th March, the tailors have made over 500,000 facemasks and to date we have provided the largest distribution in the area. The project has helped employ people for nearly two months when otherwise they’d have had very little or no work. The social distancing has been a big challenge. Making masks was an attempt to protect people and the communities we serve, as we also believe that it is through the support from community we operate in that has translated into our good reputation.

Overtime the narrative of facemask production in South Sudan has changed where everyone is scrambling to produce tens of thousands of masks for sale, while others imports into the country after the government made it compulsory to wear them in public which marks as a very visual reminder of the dangers of the virus, which could actually act as a “behavioral change” to the public for overall better personal hygiene.  It has become lucrative business to the entire market of South Sudan where many apparently fail to observe the hygiene of the commodity nor the history of the masks found in the local market. “One Monday I decided to make some slight research to sample different brands of facemasks in the market and before I got to the nearby market I decided to pass at the barber shop, as I was at the entry, I was welcomed by sample of imported V-shape mask and before I could even pick a piece, another awaiting client who was struggling to find one that fits him handed over the one that he had tried on  to the seller in exchange of the fitting size, amazingly the seller return the same mask in a transparent polythene  and placed it on a display for someone else to buy it” Says X.   “After barber shop I stretched little bit along Hi- cinema fortunately I met a hawker hanging different assorted colours of facemasks with urge to sell, he hands over to me different samples with different sizes as he pulls me aside with an intention of helping me to fit the different sizes, I get a bit hesitant and request him to look for a different brand that I clearly knew he didn’t have” When there was an outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, the whole world was sued with strict guide lines on both hygiene and social distancing by world health organization.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and infect you (WHO).

The notion of testing different masks to determine the right size, therefore, goes against the mentioned guidelines and risks the spread of covid-19. To avoid this, RAK Media which is the pioneer of facemasks production has resorted to one size fits all masks to avoid possible cases of transmission from contaminated surfaces.

Apparently the population within Juba is more than a million which means there is still stretch of facemasks supplied in the market and RAK Media has tried to break even by producing affordable masks without necessary looking into profit margin since they have considered this venture as part of the CSR program, besides the production of facemasks the group has also sponsored different artist “ISAKA NO 1” among others to pass messages on covid-19 in different dialect that can be understood by everyone.

“Printing and advertising are our core business however for the last three months we shelved some of our activities embarking on production of facemasks without necessary looking into profits in-order to reduce the gap in the supplies. What we produced, half of it is donated to community while the remaining batch we sell at affordable prices just to get the cost of production and also be able to pay the tailors. As a group we would like to request Government and other donor partners who might need the mass production of facemasks to partner with us so that we can produce large quantities for free distributions to the public, and by so doing the public will avoid the desperate move acquiring contaminated masks sold from unknown sources.”

We didn’t wait for the other stakeholders to act, we stepped in and stepped up right from the start. The masks were just an add-on to some of the Group CSR programs that we already had in place, such as food distribution or help for vulnerable women.

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