By HENRY OWINO
It seems like Kenyans are already tired of adhering to the containment measures against Coronavirus as directed by government. In most places, people are no longer wearing face masks, neither observing social distance rules nor washing hands as often as possible or sanitizing while handshakes, hugs are back.
Since President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted the cessation of movement with extension of the curfew period, Kenyans have gone back to old normal ways of life. This could be one of the reasons to why the Coronavirus cases are spiking day after day.
The rising Covid-19 cases as per now are scaring especially as even frontline health worker are being infected. This is the moment crucial precautionary measures need to be observed vigilantly than any other time.
Mutahi Kagwe, CS Health has always said, ‘if we behave normally, this disease would treat abnormally’ and right now this is true and happening.
Kenyans are reluctant and behaving normally rising the curve beyond imaginable surge. Currently, Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and Kenyatta National Hospital’s (KNH) Mbagathi Infectious Disease Unit (IDU) are being closed to the public.
According to Cyrus Oguna, the Government Spokesman the two health facilities had become overwhelmed by virtue of their basic purposes; Kemri being a research institution while the IDU at Mbagathi, is an isolation centre. Normal health services are done at KNH and Mbagathi main hospitals.
“We cannot have all Kenyans being tested for Covid at these two institutions yet we have other testing sites that are open to people seeking such services. We have testing sites at both KNH and Mbagathi main hospitals where Kenyans can go. Mama Lucy is also being prepared to offer those services.
“However, for those Kenyans who are able they can go to the Lancet Laboratories,” Oguna clarified evening as it emerged that KNH’s Mbagathi IDU will no longer be handling Covid-19 suspected cases but only confirmed ones.
Oguna said Kemri had reached such a decision of suspending Covid samples collection after it became clear that other research activities it has been established for were suffering.
“Kemri is not a hospital but a research institution, so it was important to suspend Covid -19 samples collection to have it focus more on its mandate,” he added.
In an internal memo, Mbagathi IDU’s Directors and Head of Departments were also cautioned not to receive referrals from counties unless under special circumstances.
The memo dated July 9 was signed by the hospital’s Senior Director of Clinical Services, Dr Irene Inwani.
“The Head of Unit Respiratory Infections Diseases is directed to stop all the screening activities and public testing at the KNH Mbagathi IDU,” she said.
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe on July 7 said there will be no airlifting of patients from other counties to Nairobi.
“There will be no capacity to be brought to Nairobi for treatment as Nairobi itself will be already overwhelmed. Where we are heading is unpredictable,” Kagwe said.
The far-reaching directives that have been taken by the two key Covid-19 sample collection and testing institutions in a space of one week have left Kenyans concerned and at the hands of a merciless virus.
Already battered by the social and economic burden brought by the global pandemic, Kenyans who are struggling to put a meal on their tables are once again confronted by the fact that, a Covid test in order to get back to their places of work is not going to be cheap.
Recently, Kemri suspended the free Covid-19 sample collection, and directed that Kenyans who wish to do such tests to seek services at designated medical facilities.
So far, it emerged that Kenyatta National Hospital’s (KNH) Mbagathi Infectious Disease Unit had taken a similar decision.
A State official who sought anonymity explained that the decisions were taken to prevent further spread of the virus among those handling the samples, explaining that after cessation restrictions were lifted many Kenyans thronged these facilities seeking to be tested, but some didn’t even wear masks.
It is very clear that the government is overwhelmed by the huge numbers of Kenyans seeking to test for Covid-19 following president lifting of inter-county movement restrictions.
President Uhuru Kenyatta had cautioned Kenyans about travelling to upcountry despite lifting lockdowns as they could infect the elderly and other people with pre-existing health conditions. Many celebrated lifting ban of the movement restrictions without taking into considerations its subsequent consequences.
Currently, Kenyans only wear face masks while visiting banking halls, supermarkets and other public places where adhering are still being enforced. In open air markets, bus terminals and such like, people never adhere to these directives unless with presence of law enforcers.
Initially the cases were mainly in Nairobi and Mombasa Counties but now it is all over the country. What began as imported virus is now with us spreading communally. With reopening of movements in and out of the two counties, the cases are likely to shoot especially as people travel to the counties spreading it.
Unfortunately, the virus will be with us for a long time and it is imperative that the government puts in place measures to ensure that reopening minimizes the risk of infection and that should one get infected and require healthcare, then they can be treated.
For a long time, doctors in Kenya have agitated for quality healthcare for all. The industrial action by doctors in 2017 that culminated in the jailing of seven doctors of our umbrella trade union has been vindicated by the virus.
The doctors were asking for improved public healthcare that would mitigate such pandemics and many more in future.
To open the economy thus, several measures must be in place to avoid it becoming a health catastrophe due to an accelerated rise in infections, and an increase in patients requiring healthcare. Reopening thus has to be a stepwise process.
The Kenya Medical Association Covid-19 Response Committee have come up with some proposals before the economy is opened.
They are what you will call irreducible minimums as the President explores the fearsome possibility of opening up the economy.
First, they demand for the designation Covid-19 isolation and treatment facilities to cover all counties as well as recruitment of additional health workers to address the shortfall as we prepare for the possibility of a surge in transmission when movement restrictions are lifted.
That the parent ministry should institutionalize training for health workers on management of this pandemic in addition to coming up with regulations that allow for home-based quarantine and isolation where possible.
Further, efforts must be made to ensure a secure supply chain of adequate Personal Protective Equipment and other supplies for our health facilities.
Moreover, the government should consider reopening health training institutions with the appropriate protections to support the health system at this time of great need.
And we should fully reopen our hospitals and health facilities to deal with other health conditions that are prevalent in the country.
Besides hospitals, the other major challenge will be the re-opening of schools which remains in limbo and a major migraine for Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha. The issue should be well thought out.
The government must ensure that learners have access to health services, including medics designated to take care of the learners should they fall ill.
Equally, Magoha must ensure that they have access to sanitary facilities and have regulations in place to ensure health risks to learners are minimized
In the long term, Kenya should explore ways of establishing a centralized mechanism for managing human resources for health in order to ensure that in future, decisions such as those we propose in the short term can be made by a competent authority that has the necessary information to do so.
This would be achieved through the establishment of a Health Services Commission.