At KU isolation centre, life is bliss for patients
At about 5.30am, a hoarse loud voice disrupts the day-break tranquility, shouting outside the three rooms that make a ward, that breakfast is served.
Persons who have delivered it, draped in shiny white personal protective equipment (PPEs), are strategically positioned at a distance.
The two hazmat-suited health care workers, their bodies completely covered from possible infection by the dangerous coronavirus, position themselves at a distance of about 15 metres away as they await the 21 patients in the ward to collect their breakfast.
It is the early daily routine at the Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital coronavirus quarantine centre, where people who have tested positive with mild and asymptomatic cases of the virus and “close contacts” of confirmed cases are held until they are deemed free of the disease and discharged.
Life in the KU quarantine centre - with regimented meals and PPE-wearing staff - feels like an odd mix of being in school, at camp, and in prison.
Evans, who has been admitted at the centre for close to three weeks, describes the facilities and environment at the KUTRRH as “a holiday camp” for those quarantined there.
“Before being brought here in an ambulance, I had a different view of quarantine centres.
But within two days, I learned that contrary to common belief and perception out there, there is nothing going on here apart from being fed well and isolated from the public,” Evans says.
Due to the good meals, patients at the facility have coined a phrase “dawa ya corona ni chakula na mazoezi” (the best medication for coronavirus is a proper good diet and exercise).
The lifestyle of asymptomatic patients (those not exhibiting any signs) at KUTRRH exemplifies the huge bill the government is footing to maintain Covid-19 patients across the country even as the number of those testing positive keeps rising.
According to the Director General of Health, Dr Patrick Amoth, the government spends Sh21,400 to keep a patient with mild Covid-19 symptoms or asymptomatics in a quarantine facility daily while it costs Sh71,000 a day for a Covid-19 patient in critical care when on a ventilator.
And for patients with severe symptoms in need of oxygen supplement, the government spends Sh51,000 a day.
Asymptomatic cases form 80 per cent of patients in hospitals, while those with severe and critical conditions form 15 and 5 per cent of the admissions.
“It is very costly to maintain a Covid-19 patient both in hospital and quarantine facility. This is one of the reasons we are opting for the home-based care in a bid to reduce the huge bill,” Dr Amoth told the People Daily.
Evans has been staying in one of the rooms in Mau ward. Each of the three rooms in the ward has seven beds.
Since his admission, Evans has found company and comfort in six colleagues, Simon, Peter, Rajab, Denis and Ignatius, who also have not shown symptoms for the virus.
In total, each ward has 21 patients sharing two toilets and two bathrooms, contradicting the very essence of self-isolation for individuals who test positive.
Inside their rooms, Evans and his friends have a clear view of the imposing Kenya University Teaching, Referral and Research Memorial home (mortuary), a unnerving reminder of what could be awaiting them should their prayers go unanswered.
While the government is changing strategy by introducing home-based care for asymptomatic cases, after questions why such individuals should be admitted to quarantine centres, those like Evans who have been at the KUTRRH are full of praise for the care they receive at the facility.
“Our day begins at around 5.30 am when we are served with heavy breakfast that most of us have only dreamt of in our lives. I can’t complain about the meals here, they are good,” Evans’ colleague, Peter says emphatically.
All meals are placed outside the patients’ rooms about five times a day.
For breakfast, the patients have the luxury to choose from a cluster of white bread, vegetable samosas, boiled or fried egg, scrambled egg, beef or pork sausages, boiled maize, fried matoke, cassava, chicken wings, boiled sweet potatoes, arrow roots, rindless bacon or streaky bacon, tea, coffee, glass of cold or warm milk or drinking chocolate. A serving of fruits complete the morning menu.
The patients can then go back to sleep until around 9.30 am when the nurses make rounds to find out if any of the patients has a problem.
Doctors visit the wards on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, to check on patients with problems or complications and those who have served their 14-day isolation period and are ready to leave.
At around 10am, patients are served tea with either mandazi or cake and thereafter a waiter strolls in to take their order for the next day’s meals.
From 10am, the patients roam around the open filed till around 1pm when lunch is served. Here, the patients are served meals selected from the menu the previous day.
This would range from braised minced meat, braised goat meat, njahi stew, mixed vegetables, braised beef, fried minced meat, lentil stew, fried or roast chicken, vegetable rice, pan fried fish fillet and Irish lamb stew served with irio, ugali, steamed rice, spaghetti, or mashed potatoes. Fresh fruits are also served.
After lunch, the patients can decide to have an afternoon nap or read a book for those with reading materials.
“Most people get bored after lunch because there is nothing to do until 9pm (save for the 4pm tea) when dinner is served.
But majority have devised ways to while away time by doing physical exercises in the open field. Since coming here I have learned to jog round the field,” says Rajab.
For dinner, patients have a choice of chapati, rice, ugali, irio, spaghetti or mashed potatoes, served with fried liver, braised beef short ribs, beans stew, beef stew, goat meat, mutton, njahi, fried or roast chicken. Again, fresh fruit is served.
The food routine ends at around 10pm when patients are served either tea, coffee or drinking chocolate before they retire to bed.
Every ward has a water dispenser, a microwave oven, and packets of sugar, tea and coffee for patients to make a drink of their choice at any time.
Besides food, patients are provided with clean bedding, bathing towels, face towels, slippers, toothpaste and toothbrush, bathing soap, toilet paper and serviettes.
Each patient is also given a mouthwash and multi-vitamin syrups and cetirizine dosage. There are other medicines depending on individual conditions.
Those coughing are given cough syrup while those with headaches, stomach-aches, sore throat, and running nose are given the correct medication.
“It’s clear to me and others in this situation that we are not here for medical help; we are here because we are not trusted to self-isolate, as I had been doing the last week before I was forced to come here by ministry of Health officials,” Evans says.
At the quarantine facility, it is upon every individual to maintain social distance as well as keep one’s hygiene. The management provides patients with one mask almost after every four days.
“Unlike outside there where police and county officers will harass you for not wearing a mask, here it is upon you to wear it or not.
Nobody follows you up,” says Dennis, who spends most of his time either sleeping or exercising on the field.
According to Dennis, who has since left, self-isolation was made more complicated by one of the patients, who risked infection by mingling with inmates from Kamiti and Industrial Area prison who had been admitted in an adjacent ward.