Don’t celebrate yet, WHO warns over falling Covid-19 infections

Tuesday, September 1st, 2020 00:00 |
Intensive Care Unit beds and other general health facilities at a hospital in Kerugoya, Kirinyaga county. PD/FILE

The  World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned Kenya against easing coronavirus restrictions as the country is not out of the woods yet. 

Warning, however, came  on the day the country recorded its lowest infections in two months.

In his 163 national briefing, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said 144 new cases had been detected from some 4,260 samples tested in 24 hours. This brings the overall tally of confirmed cases to 34,201.

“From the cases, 133 are Kenyans while 11 are foreigners. In terms of gender, 88 are males and 58 females, the youngest is a 7-year-old child while the oldest is 84,” the CS said, adding that a total of 454,406 samples have been tested so far.

According to the statement, Nairobi, which is the country’s epicenter, continues to lead with 77 new cases followed by Mombasa (18), Kiambu (nine), Kisumu (six), Kajiado (six), Machakos (five), Narok (five), and Turkana (five).

In a press statement, the global health body told Kenyan authorities that the apparent decline in new Covid-19 cases cannot be taken as an outright indication of a flattening of the Covid-19 curve. 

“Though WHO is encouraged by the reported declining number of Covid-19 cases in Kenya in the past three weeks, we caution against a too rapid interpretation that this already constitutes a true reduction in the spread of the disease,” it warned.

WHO says the number of new cases seems to have drastically dropped in Mombasa and Nairobi while they could be on an upward trend in other counties.

World organisation cautioned the government to tread carefully over the issue, and wait until widespread testing and contact tracing are conducted before the champagne corks are popped.

It warned of a possible resurgence of Covid-19 cases should the government react to the declining numbers in Mombasa and Nairobi with in a knee-jerk manner by declaring the country Covid-19 free.

Consequently, WHO urges the Kenyan authorities not to relax the protocols put in place to contain the disease such as wearing of masks, frequent washing and sanitising of hands, social distancing in all public places and restrictions on travel and gatherings.

Grapples with

Global health body faulted the government over weak contact tracing that constituted only about 20 per cent of the total confirmed cases and poor testing capacity.

Kenya has been grappling with the problem of low testing as a result shortage of testing kits and reagents, lack of staff and closure of testing centres across the country. 

The situation has been exacerbated by the long time it takes the authorities to release Covid-19 test results which has increased from 24 hours when the virus was first detected in Kenya to more than seven days currently.

Unlike during the initial stages of the outbreak when the country was on its toes over contact tracing, matters have slowed since early June when the government relaxed the gusto with which it used to go after all those who had come into contact with infected individuals.

“Overall contact tracing continues to be the weakest link in the response with only about 20 per cent of the cases having contacts listed,” the organisation noted.

Currently, WHO contends that Kenya’s health systems cannot cope with new hospitalisations without being overwhelmed while maintaining the delivery of essential services to Kenyans, which is a key determinant whether the country is out of the woods.

“Key for Kenya is that currently only 10 out of the 47 counties’ public sector facilities have been fully trained in case management and infection prevention and control which reflects a major gap in the health system capacity.” 

According to WHO, for a country to be given a clean bill of health over a pandemic or epidemic, it must successfully meet five criterion, among them, recording a decline of cases by at least 50 per cent over a three-week period since the latest peak and continuous decline in the observed incidence of confirmed and probable cases; and record less than five per cent positivity rate for at least two weeks.

And the five per cent threshold is only applicable in situations with widespread laboratory testing of the populations, which has not been the case in Kenya.

“As long as lab testing is focused on certain groups of the population, the positivity rate threshold cannot be extrapolated to the entire population.

It should not be seen as the only or the most important criteria in this domain,” WHO country director Rudi Eggers warned.

Thirdly, WHO says for the country to be declared to have emerged out of the pandemic, at least 80 per cent of new cases should be traced from contact lists and can be linked to known clusters.

And lastly, the country should register a decline in the number of deaths among confirmed and probable cases for at least three weeks as well as continuous decline in the number of hospitalisation and ICU admissions of confirmed and probable cases at least for two weeks.

More on News