Why coronavirus deaths are higher than reported

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021 00:00 |
Health PS Dr Susan Mochache when she appeared before PAC over audited accounts of Ministry of Health. Photo/PD/SAMUEL KARIUKI

The government may have been understating the number of Covid-19 related deaths in the country, it has emerged.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr Susan Mochache told MPs that the number of people dying from coronavirus could be much higher than reported in the government’s daily bulletins.

Mochache, who appeared before the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said the unreported deaths were those that occurred within the community as the ministry’s daily briefings only captured deaths that occurred in hospitals.   

“There is absolutely no doubt that we are in the fourth wave, the statistics show. People are truly dying, but we cannot give the numbers without empirical evidence that they have died of Covid-19,” she told the MPs.

“What we can confirm are the deaths happening in hospitals, and where there have been community deaths an autopsy must be conducted,” she added.

Mochache told the lawmakers more deaths were occurring in the villages following the onset of the fourth wave that were not being reported.

She said the daily numbers being reported are from those that succumbed to the disease while in hospitals and not those who die at home.

While giving her brief on the Covid-19 cases in the country, Mochache said there is no doubt that more people are dying from the disease on a daily basis.

Registrar of Deaths

She noted that to address the situation, the ministry had engaged the Registrar of Deaths on the matter as well as instructed all chiefs to record deaths in their areas.

She stated that currently, there was a challenge in determining the exact number of deaths arising from Covid 19 unless a postmortem examination is conducted on those people who die at home.

Her sentiments came on the day Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe expressed optimism the positivity rate in the country was going down following the recent trends recorded at the weekend.

Kagwe noted that towards the weekend, the positivity rate had started to come down after the country recorded a positivity rate of 9.7 per cent compared to last week where the positivity rate hit close to 13 per cent.

Facility records

In the latest statistics, 10 patients succumbed to the disease, all of them being late deaths reported after conducting facility record audits on diverse dates in August 2021 pushing the cumulative fatalities to 4,720.

“Whereas this might seem like good news, we however urge Kenyans to exercise a lot of caution in terms of our behaviour towards this virus. We must not attempt to lower our guard.

There is a need to continue adhering strictly to the containment measures that we have advised if we are to win this war against this disease,” he said.

But in parliament, Mochache, while admitting that stigma around the disease had made people stop going to hospitals to seek medical attention and thus ended up dying at home, blamed county governments for failing to invest in healthcare and pathologists to help deal with the disease.

She said that although they have increased the number of testing kits from the initial three testing sites to over 47 testing sites, they are still struggling with whether counties can afford to buy the reagents or not despite them giving them testing equipment.

“We have been working very hard with counties and national administration to monitor community deaths but one of the difficult challenges we have is counties have not invested in pathologists, morticians so that area has a gap,” she added.

She told the committee that the government was pulling all stops to make vaccines available to Kenyans.

She, however, decried the global shortfall in the vaccine, citing instances where Kenya ordered for at least a million doses but ended up with 300,000 doses due to the high demand.

MOH data

Mochache was responding to a question from Garissa Township MP Aden Duale who raised concerns there were more cases of people dying in the constituencies compared to the data the Ministry of Health was releasing on a daily basis.

Duale regretted that a National Government Constituencies Development Fund (NG-CDF) vehicle in his area that used to ferry seven bodies for burial was now ferrying 15 bodies daily.

He said it was evident that Kenyans are really dying yet the ministry was still giving inaccurate statistics.

“This Delta variant is lethal. I have a feeling that the way people are dying in China is the same way people are dying in our villages. There are a lot of deaths in Kiambu, Nyeri and other parts of this country,” he added.

Duale, who accused the ministry of lowering its guard as it is no longer conducting contact tracing and isolation of those found positive.

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