A cry for help as 429 medics are infected with COVID-19

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020 00:00 |
Health workers prepare for the Mass Testing Exercise in nairobi’s Kawangware Estate in June. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

George Kebaso, Bernard Gitau and Alvin Mwangi

John, a nurse at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), reports to work daily for the night shift, which starts at 5.30pm and ends at 7.30am the following day, not sure whether he will come out unscathed.

This is because of the myriad challenges that frontline workers face as they battle the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the country, ranging from lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to insurance cover for themselves and their loved ones in the event they succumb to the deadly virus.

“We lack PPEs, and when available, they do not meet the standards recommended for our use.

We don’t have medical insurance for ourselves and our families,” he lamented, saying he was only working because he loves his job.

“For instance, we are entitled to one KN95 face mask per shift for purposes of comfort, but what we are getting is quite substandard. We don’t have a choice, though, we use what we are given,” John added.  

A doctor at the same hospital, who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation, also shared her tribulations.

She complained of the unavailability of isolation rooms for Covid-19 patients or those suspected to have symptoms for the virus, further exposing healthcare workers to the virus.

“We encounter so many suspected Covid cases; some have to be placed on the corridors because isolation rooms are full; after swabbing to get samples, we usually do not have a room to hold them as they await results, which takes a day or two,” she revealed.

Healthcare workers 

The two spoke as the government confirmed that a total of 429 health workers had tested positive for Covid-19 so far, raising fears of an unfolding health crisis.

Acting Director of Health Dr Patrick Amoth, said the figure accounted for 4.1 per cent of the total number of infections in the country.

“We are offering psychosocial support to them and providing sufficient Personal Protective Equipment,” he added.

Several unions representing healthcare workers led by the Kenya Medical Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO), Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) and the Kenya Health Professional Society have raised the red flag regarding the crisis, warning that it could spiral out of control if not addressed.

The unions listed the myriad challenges facing frontline health workers, ranging from chronic understaffing to lack of adequate and quality PPEs.

They also lamented the lack of designated facilities for healthcare workers for isolation and quarantine.

“All these factors have contributed to the upsurge of the number of healthcare workers infected by Covid-19, which equally puts their families and the public at risk,” said the unions during a press conference at Railways Club yesterday.

At the Pumwani Maternity Hospital where 41 workers tested positive for the virus, the situation was grim with health authorities battling to ensure the situation did not spiral out of control.

Amoth, who led a high-powered team to the hospital to assess the situation, said all the 41 employees had been isolated and placed under home-based care.

“We have conducted testing on 290 workers where 41 tested positive. Nineteen are frontline healthcare workers with 22 being support staff,” said Dr Amoth.

Tested positive

“All 41 cases are under home-based care and two have been cleared. The rest are doing well, no one has gone to hospital for care and we are hopeful they will pull through without developing symptoms of Covid-19; they are all asymptomatic,” he added.

This is after three expectant mothers also tested positive, forcing the Ministry of Health to start contact tracing for those who had already been discharged.

The other remaining 100 workers were also undergoing testing, Amoth said.

He said the government also launched an isolation unit at the facility to accommodate healthcare workers who do not meet criteria for home-based care.

“The hospital is safe and we are doing everything possible to stop further spread of the disease to healthcare workers and mothers and those who seek services here,” he said.

Director of Health Services in Nairobi Metropolitan, Josephine Kibaru, revealed that persons who tested positive at the hospital were in the housekeeping unit, isolation centre, kitchen, labour ward, laboratory, new borns’ unit, the NHIF offices, theatre, and Wards 2 and 6.

“We have medical officers, clinical officers, 14 nurses and laboratory technologists. The hospital is operational though we have downscaled. Only emergency cases are being admitted.

Other services can be sought at various health facilities within the area,” said Kibaru.

James, a critical care nurse at KNH, said most health facilities did not have proper ventilation, exposing health workers to the deadly virus.

“Covid-19 is a disease that is spread through the air so if a healthcare workers is working in a building full of coronavirus patients without good ventilation, it exposes them to the disease. Some of the PPEs we are supplied with are torn, so when you are sprayed with bleach they ruin your clothes,” he said.

Speaking to People Daily on phone, the clinical officers’ union secretary general George Gibore said most of the medics have been forced to work under difficult circumstances as they are provided with substandard equipment.

 “We should not be talking about PPEs; we should be talking about the quality of equipment our doctors are being provided with,” said Gibore.

He added that most of the PPEs being issued to healthcare workers, especially the face masks, are of low quality.

According to Gibore, most of the medics use the usual surgical masks while the World Health Organisation (WHO) demands them to use the N95 mask.

“It is a sad state of affairs we are experiencing in our dispensaries. Most of these medics are being forced to use a surgical mask for more than 24 hours,” he said.

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