Mwamvua Abdu‘s food vending business has never recovered since the first wave of Covid-19 outbreak hit the country in midMarch last year.
The mother of three girls operates her food business along the Nelson Mandela expressway at the Tazara area. Mwamvua’s customers are usually pedestrians and the staff of nearby offices. The fear of contracting Covid-19 has caused most people who earlier embarked on haphazard dining to be very cautious on what and where they buy their food.
Mwamvua recounts how the Covid-19 outbreak became her greatest nightmare because business turned out to be very hard. “As the number of people who were admitted for contracting the virus grew in the country last year between March and May, majority of employees opted to work from home, and very few reported in offices.
“For some of us, our work was hit harder than ever from the outbreak of the disease in unexpected ways,” said Mwamvua.
Mwamvua’s situation reflects the story of many women and traders in the country. Just as the businesses were affected by the devastating impacts of Covid-19, the country’s economy was also hit hard, as it was recently revealed by President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who said “Covid- 19 has slowed down the country’s economic growth from 6.9 to 4.7 per cent”.
According to her, the few people who reported in offices opted not to buy food from them because they were scared of contracting Covid-19. Much as Mwamvua and her colleagues tried to adhere to all precautionary measures, including the issue of wearing face masks, using hand sanitizers and temperature testing, their customers viewed them as a threat.
From her ordinary capital of 50,000/-, the single mother had to operate her business using only 15,000/- while struggling to earn means for her daughters who were on Covid-19 school break.
Due to the poor performance of her business, the mother of three would constantly fail to provide for her children, and they would end up going to bed on porridge alone. Mwamvua lives in a rented house at the Mwananyamala area in Kinondoni Municipality of Dar es Salaam Region.
Most of the landlords usually receive their rent for between three and six months, and when the time for paying her rent arrived, she did not have a single penny. The mother of three revealed that over time life slowly returned to normal, but her business has never recovered from the impact of the devastating effect.
Since the first wave of the outbreak, people have been very keen on their eating habits, some have chosen not to eat at all when they are at their workplaces, and some have been very selective on what they eat due to issues of hygiene. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of getting Covid-19 from homemade food or from handling and consuming food from restaurants and takeout or drive-thru meals are thought to be very low.
Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that handling food or consuming food is associated with Covid-19. Coronaviruses, like the one that causes Covid-19, are thought to spread mostly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks.
However, CDC also suggested that it is possible for a person to get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object, including food or food packaging, that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or their eyes.
However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Among measures underlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help contain the spread of Covid-19 which includes issues of social distancing, proper hygiene management (washing hands and sanitizing) have been claimed to pose economic side effects which have been felt by the poor communities, especially women like Mwamvua, who are breadwinners in their families.
In a bid to ensure that such public health concerns are always being observed at all times during outbreaks or with no outbreaks, Mwamvua is taking all the necessary precautions, including always maintaining cleanliness in the area she is operating her business and encouraging her customers to always wash their hands before they sit for their meals.
As for deliveries she makes in the offices, she ensures that her assistants who do the deliveries are always clean and tidy physically and the containers used to carry the food are also clean. A Public Health Official at Kinondoni District, Mr John Kijumbe points out that food handlers need to ensure proper hygiene conditions at all times while operating a food business.
Mr Jumbe observes that the law requires any person who intends to operate a food business to go through thorough medical examination before and after every after six months.
“In case a food handler is suffering from communicable illness or has wounds, the person is strictly prohibited from offering any such services to avoid contamination,” said Mr Kijumbe.
On the other hand, the National Guidelines for Registration and Licensing of Food of 2011 requires that food handlers shall be clean in person and shall avoid unhygienic practices, such as smoking, sneezing and coughing over food, nose picking, finger licking, talking over food among others.
The guidelines also recommend putting in place adequate provision for hand washing facilities with hot and cold running water, nail brushes and disinfectant liquid soap.
To avoid re-contamination of hands, there shall be automatic or elbow or foot operated water tapes. A report from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that social distancing and wearing face masks, hand washing, and other hygienic measures are incredibly important.
“All food sellers should wash their hands frequently and any time they touch potentially contaminated objects, because it is important for people to scrub their hands and arms for 20 seconds while ensuring that they scrub the tops of their hands and between fingers,” suggests the report.
It however proposes the use of hand sanitizers and disposable gloves as helpful but not as effective against the Covid-19 virus as hand washing, stating that workers should also avoid touching their faces, which includes eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands and stay home if they are sick.
Besides, it further states that people dealing with handling of food should be educated on the important practices due to the essential work they do, food processing and food packaging facilities should also advise their employees to do the same.
“Maintain social distance, not shaking hands or hugging, avoid people who are sick, and groups or places where people congregate,” reads the report.
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure, people should maintain proper hygiene mechanisms at all times, not only during outbreaks to overcome the spread of other killer diseases such as cholera, influenza, typhoid, and diarrhea. However, government and other health stakeholders should make it a custom to raise public awareness on proper sanitation and hygiene practices across different sectors.