By Peter Oliver Ochieng
In May 2020, Kisumu became the only County in Kenya to launch a COVID-19 Response Centre, a 24-hour toll-free call service dedicated to reporting and receiving reports on the pandemic, from members of the public.
It was and remains the only other COVID-19 call Centre in the Country, besides the national one based in Nairobi. The Centre, operating under a toll-free number 0800 720 575 was born out of a partnership between Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o’s administration, Maseno University and PharmAccess.
Initially stationed at the Maseno University Kisumu town campus, the Centre’s aim was to provide a platform for members of the public to report or raise any issues related to the pandemic; ranging from flouting of COVID-19 containment measures, signs and symptoms and preventive measures among others.
Fast forward several months later, and the Centre has transformed into a one stop shop for those seeking information on any health related issue in Kisumu County. Dispatch of ambulances in case of an emergency is one of its success stories.
The Centre is currently based at the Kisumu County Referral Hospital (KCRH). Fred Oluoch, Kisumu County’s Director for Health and Sanitation explains why it was moved from Maseno University.
“The Centre was started in partnership with Maseno University which was for a given period of time. When that time ended, we had to move it to our sustainable Centre. We had to come up with our own centre which we can be able to maintain and link to our ambulances,” he said.
Dr Oluoch said the County Government of Kisumu has a total of 21 ambulances, all of them linked to the Centre. “We have 21 ambulances and all of them are linked to the call centre. Even though they are distributed all over the County, once you call the centre and you say where you are located then they assign the ambulance which is next to you,” he said.
The County Government is however still working in partnership with PharmAccess at the Centre. PharmAccess is in charge of the COVID-19 self assessment App, known as Luscii and data analysis. The Call Centre is under the Emergency and Operation Centre (EOC).
According to David Wanyande who is the Administrator and Fleet Manager EOC in Kisumu County, the Call Centre unit has been running well. The administrator said that in case of an emergency, they do not just dispatch an ambulance to the field.
“A patient who is in need of urgent medical attention must first be taken to the nearest health facility. The facility will then call the Centre. Once they call that they have an emergency, we look for any ambulance available within that Sub-County and we dispatch it immediately to go and pick the patient,” he said.
Kisumu County has 7 Sub-Counties, namely; Kisumu Central, Kisumu East, Kisumu West, Seme, Nyakach, Nyando and Muhoroni. Through the call centre, a patient in need of emergency healthcare can be picked from a health facility in far flung areas like Seme and Nyakach, and taken to KCRH, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) within Kisumu town, or any other hospital with relevant manpower and equipment.
Wanyande says their aim is to save lives, and that is why they only send ambulances to health facilities.
“You cannot dispatch an ambulance with a driver to go and pick a patient in the village. The ambulance must be accompanied by a nurse. The nurse will manage the patient along the way. If you dispatch an ambulance to a village, who will assist the patient and maybe the patient is almost delivering?”
He said delivery, pediatric and accident form a bulk of emergency cases they tackle on several occasions. The Centre is manned by six people, in the frame of EOC Manager, Administrator, two operators and two interns.
He said the major challenges they face is lack of enough drivers and ambulances breaking down at the most hour of need. He is hopeful that the administration will address the challenges.
Kevin Owiti is a trained nurse. He works at the Centre as an operator. He said the Centre has given them an opportunity to practice what he terms as Tele-medicine.
“What we are doing is called Tele-medicine. It is not all about receiving calls. There are calls which you can just provide information, but there are others which you are supposed to give instructions and directions on what to do to save lives. You have to apply your professional acumen,” said Owiti.
“Before the call centre, people were forced to go to health facilities to seek for information. But now, the advantage is that somebody can call us to seek information before making a decision to go to a health facility.”
He said on a busy day they can receive over 200 calls of people seeking information on various matters, among them COVID-19, the Kisumu County Marwa (Ours) Solidarity Health Scheme recently launched by the Governor, and health facilities calling for dispatch of ambulances.
County health management teams are at hand to train them on a weekly basis, in a bid to ensure that they provide accurate and effective information to members of the public.
Most of those who call the centre normally get the 0800 720 575 toll free number via posters, social media. Those who registered for the Marwa health cover continue to receive the number via a short message from M-TIBA (health cover supported by mobile phone Company Safaricom).
Emily Awuor, a resident of Nyakach sub-county, and Joshua Oyaro from Kisumu East sub-county are among those to have called the Centre in the recent past. “I made a call seeking further information the Marwa health scheme. The person I talked to were polite and gave me the information I requested,” she said. Her sentiments were echoed by Oyaro.
Although the call center has proved useful, Mr. Wanyande says the major downside they face each day is breakdown of ambulances at the hour of need and lack of enough drivers. “Remember the County only has 21 ambulances,” he said.
Secondly, they sometimes they get overwhelmed by the number of calls they receive on a daily basis, making them not to be able to dispatch ambulances on time to respond to all the emergencies.