Only 15 counties ready as Covid-19 infections surge

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
Equity Group Foundation COO Polycarp Igathe hands over PPEs to Kisii Governor James Ongwae. Equity Bank and its partners are distributing PPEs worth Sh237 million to public health facilities across the country to help health workers fight the pandemic. Photo/PD/ROBERT OCHORO

Only five counties are fully prepared to handle a surge in coronavirus infections, according to a team of medical experts picked by President Uhuru Kenyatta to assess the country’s Covid-19 preparedness.

A preliminary report developed by the team paints a grim picture regarding the country’s general preparedness, with nearly half of the counties ill-equipped to handle a full blown outbreak.

The revelations come as the high-level meeting between Uhuru and the country’s 47 governors, which had been scheduled for Friday, was pushed to Monday to enable the experts to finalise their report.

It is expected that the report will be presented to Health CS Mutahi Kagwe by Friday for onward submission to the President ahead of the Monday meeting.

Council of Governors (CoG) chairman Wycliffe Oparanya yesterday confirmed that the meeting had been pushed to Monday.

“The meeting has been rescheduled to Monday, that is the position,” Oparanya told People Daily.

Details of the gloomy situation in the counties came as doctors raised the red flag over the rising cases of frontline workers who are getting infected with coronavirus, warning that the trend could result in the public healthcare system being overstretched.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) warned that up to 500 healthcare workers have already been infected while three have died so far.

“What is now worrying is the number of healthcare workers being admitted to quarantine and isolation centres, it is seriously hampering Covid-19 response and treatment,” said KMPDU acting secretary general Chibanzi Mwachonda.

Over 55 years

He also warned that at least 20 per cent of doctors in public health facilities across the country are either above 55 years or have pre-existing health conditions and could, therefore, not respond to the expected surge in the number of infections.

“We are at a point where healthcare workers are getting overwhelmed, we are urging the government to prioritise employing more healthcare workers,” he said.

According to the report by the medical experts, only Mombasa, Kakamega, Murang’a, Machakos and Makueni are fully prepared to deal with a full-blown Covid-19 outbreak.

“The five appear to be fully prepared in terms of available beds, equipment, human resource and public perception to fully deal with the pandemic of any magnitude,” the experts found.

The five are among 16 counties, which have achieved the 300 bed capacity target set by the President.

The others are Kiambu, Vihiga, Kilifi, Nakuru, Nyamira, Isiolo, Uasin Gishu, Homa Bay, Kisii, Nyeri and Kericho.

The report, however, paints a gloomy picture in at least 20 counties, while expressing hope that governors in some 12 counties could “move fast to catch up”.

Of concern to the experts is the fact that most of the so-called “prepared” counties have mainly concentrated their efforts on achieving the 300-bed capacity target while “doing little on other important aspects such as equipment and human resource”.

The report notes that 44 counties have already reported Covid-19 cases with only Baringo, West Pokot and Samburu yet to report an incident.

The least prepared counties, according to the report, are Busia, Siaya, Tharaka Nithi, Nandi, Kitui, Tana River, Trans Nzoia, Kisumu, Nyandarua, West Pokot, Kitui, Marsabit, Wajir, Migori and Bomet, among others.

Interestingly, those fingered for lack of preparedness to fight the virus include Nairobi, a situation blamed on the turf wars between Governor Mike Sonko’s administration and the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS).

Lack of preparedness 

The report singles out Kakamega for praise, noting; “Kakamega County took Covid-19 preparedness with the seriousness it deserves.

They have also been investing seriously in their health sector. Very good set up with all protocols in place.”

The report, however, faults governors for diverting a significant part of money allocated to them to items such as body bags and burial spaces at the expense of the more pressing ones such as oxygen, ambulances and testing kits and reagents.

“Though some good progress has been made by some counties to achieve the targeted 300-bed capacity by early this month, a lot needs to be addressed in several areas that have largely been ignored,” the report states.

It notes that majority of the counties are now grappling with lack of ambulances to ferry Covid-19 patients to health facilities, as well as the stigma associated with the disease.

They also lack adequate medical staff, oxygen masks, ventilators, isolation centres, contact tracing facilities and resources as well as testing capacities.

“Almost all the counties lack the capacity to collect and test samples to identify infected people in a timely manner, an issue that poses more risk if left on their own,” one of the experts observed.

To control the pandemic, public health workers would need to identify hundreds of new cases on or before mid-August in order to trace and test their contacts and quarantine those who test positive.

Cumulatively, counties have 400 ventilators against a targeted 10,000 and 500 ICU beds against a requirement of 5,000.

Dr Mwachonda concurred with the findings and warned that counties are likely to be overwhelmed with patients unless the national government pushed them to put in place adequate measures.

“It is unfortunate that all the counties have been concentrating on putting up many beds while forgetting other important facets.

But now that the disease has spread to the counties and is being transmitted through communal spread, we need to see much more than just bed facilities,” said the doctor.

Expressed concerns

One of the experts expressed concern that most people in the counties do not believe the disease can infect somebody in the village.

To ease the experts’ task, the President zoned the country into nine regions comprising the eight former provinces with Rift Valley being split into North and South Rift.

Yesterday, Oparanya said that counties have been inhibited by lack of adequate resources in their preparations.

“We tried our level best to reach where we are against the inadequate resources. But we must admit that while some counties have done a commendable job, some need to put in a lot of efforts to realise the targets,” Oparanya said.

He warned that with the lifting of some of the containment measures, counties have already started experiencing an upsurge in coronavirus cases.

“Though the exact number of new cases is yet to be tabulated, all counties have recorded an upsurge in new cases.

By last month, most hospitals in counties were empty, but now they have started receiving cases, which is a clear indication that many people are being infected,” Oparanya said. 

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