Sound leadership, media key in beating Coronavirus scourge

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 00:00 |
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe addresses the media at Harambee House, in Nairobi. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

 The coronavirus pandemic has been the most humbling and numbing experience in my long career as a journalist.

It has also underscored the vital role that the media can play in promoting life-saving behavioural changes in society.

To manage the challenging response strategies to this pandemic that has shaken humanity to the core, a strong and consistent political will is required at all levels of governance.

The global and national response to coronavirus is being viewed real time, on 24-hour news channels, radio stations, print media and social media platforms, with tweets and Facebook posts trending at rapid speed across the country and the world.  

There is a lot of misleading information on social media that gives false confidence or causes unnecessary alarm, thus undermining efforts to combat the spread of the disease.

Coronavirus reminds us we need effective leadership in the health sector; we need a system and people who can inspire public confidence.

This is war and we are all in the frontline. President Uhuru Kenyatta cannot be everywhere to lead the fight. 

The Commander-in-Chief needs commanders to lead troops against the enemy, not the type who unleash terror on hapless wananchi, in the name of enforcing a curfew. 

Such police officers deserve nothing short of banishment from a service expected to protect and serve the people.

Their actions are grossly inhumane, regardless of whether they are enforcing lawful orders during a humanitarian crisis.  

We need effective generals with compassionate understanding of this unprecedented situation such as Ministry of Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, Chief Administrative Secretary Mercy Mwangangi and acting Director General Patrick Amoth.

Global health experts say the critical messages the media should disseminate now is that managing this pandemic requires political will, people engagement, contingency planning, effective programmes and strategic partnerships. 

This means having a timely and effective surveillance and response strategy in place, mobilising and educating the people, motivating frontline health workers and supporting the required services to deal with the virus. 

With the poor investment in health security and weak health infrastructure, we are exposed to the virus on a massive scale.

Could the curfews and lockdowns, social distancing, closing borders and imposing travel restrictions and quarantines be the right action that came a little too late?

How about the demand for testing kits, isolation facilities, essential drugs, human resources and safe human corridors to deliver needed resources? Do we have enough facilities, should, God forbid, the caseload rise to thousands?

The chain of command and the direction of the war must be clear. With decentralisation and devolution, coordination at the counties level is crucial, in collaboration with partners, faith-based organisations and private practitioners.

Directives are difficult tasks to implement. The challenge of epidemiology is disseminating effective, real time, credible information to the public.

The media cannot abdicate its vital responsibility in this war of the century.

The coronavirus pandemic prompts us to revisit the design and implementation of universal health coverage along its three pillars of equitable access to health services, financial risk protection of the most vulnerable and quality of care. 

It is an opportunity to rebuild the healthcare system which provides affordable primary services, with appropriate interventions and full participation of the people. — albertoleny@gm‰

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