East Africa: Ugandan Creates COVID Shield for Motorcycles

Boda boda riders carry passengers on Jinja Road in Kampala.

As part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, a Ugandan innovator has come up with a plastic shield for motorcycles to protect both driver and passenger.  The shield is seen as not just reducing body contact, which could spread the virus, but also adding security for motorcycle taxi drivers.

Uganda has hundreds of thousands of motorcycles on its roads, and most of them work as taxis known as boda-bodas.

But since April with the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has banned motorcycle taxis because of the close proximity between the driver and passengers.

To solve that problem, Dickson Ngirani created a plastic shield to mount between them.

"We believe the shield is entirely going to protect the passenger from getting contaminations on the road in the process of moving.  No. 2, he will not get in direct contact with the rider," said Ngirani.

Four months into Uganda's lockdown, boda-boda drivers — currently allowed only to deliver goods — are struggling to make a living.

Drivers such as Fred Luwaga are urging authorities to let them take passengers if they use the shield.

"He says, this shield, we all as boda-boda riders should use it, because I see there's a distance.  He says, if I am seated here, and the passenger is at the back, I don't see how we are going to get infected by COVID-19," he said.

Uganda's Ministry of Works and Transport says it is investigating the effectiveness of the shield.

The ministry's chief engineer, Tony Kavuma, says one concern is that passengers will wrongly believe the shield is all they need for protection.

"That is the use of the masks and the helmet. A fully covered helmet. Because that one. One, it shields the rider. In case he or she is infected, they will be able to contain the droplets. That's No. 1. Two, in case of a fall, it will also protect the head," he said.

It's not clear when Ugandan authorities will allow passengers back onto boda-bodas.

Meanwhile, Ngirani said they are manufacturing more shields in anticipation of high demand.

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