Why country needs centre for infectious diseases

Friday, June 12th, 2020 00:00 |
Kenyatta National Hospital. Photo/Courtesy

Hesbon Hansen Owilla 

Towards the end of March, the number of Covid-19 cases  in the country were still few, but the level of caution and fear of contracting the disease was high.

Ironically, as the numbers keep rising, with excess of 100 infections per day in the last few days, Kenyans have thrown caution to the wind. 

As unfortunate as it sounds, coronavirus does not seem to scare anymore. Neither do the high rate of infection.

The media, it also appears, has moved on. In fact, we are back to the default media diet of political headlines. 

Whether we have learnt to coexist with the virus or not, truths is, we have to learn and adapt as experts say there is no post-Covid-19 era. At least not in the near future. 

Granted, we need, reduce the numbers of new infections and fatalities and most importantly work on increasing recoveries.

As at June 9, our recovery rate stood at 29.2 per cent after testing 100,686 Kenyans.

This compared to South Africa’s recovery rate of 54.73 per cent after testing 968,070. What would happen if we get to 50,000 cases? 

The government deserves a pat on the back for working out models that have projected the worst case scenario and facilitated the ministry to counter it.

However, if our recovery rate remains below 50 per cent,  our hospitals and generally health care system will be overstretched. 

The foreseeable situation calls for a better framework for handling infectious diseases going forward.

Covid-19 is now endemic and conversations should be centred on how to free our hospitals which are not adequately modelled for infectious diseases. 

Kenyans are avoiding hospitals for fear of contracting the virus and agile executives and CEOs in some facilities have devised protocols to facilitate virtual consultations, mobile pharmacies and modalities for delivering both drugs and medical services.

There, however, are many sick Kenyans suffering at home whose concerns are largely muted. 

Kenyans are afraid because hospitals are perceived as spaces with high risk of  exposure to Covid-19. 

This is  also due to the stigma associated with contracting the virus. You see, not many hospitals have the capacity, from a design point of view, to deal with infectious diseases. 

Medics talk of negative pressure which in medical lingo refers to a space where in an infectious disease or hospital set up guarantees zero risk of contamination or infection.

Because most of our hospitals don’t have such provisions, conversations need to address how to handle Covid-19 patients who need hospitalisation.

Therefore, even as we fight the pandemic, we may want to take head of a common African saying that loosely translates to “ strike the iron when it is red hot”. 

This is the time and, we need to start the conversation around a dedicated hospital and centre for treatment and management of infectious diseases.

We can only quarantine and isolate Covid-19 patients at KU Hospital, KNH, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Technical University of Mombasa and spaces like stadiums for so long. For a disease that might remain endemic, this is not sustainable. 

We cannot afford to have hospitals taken over by Corona because there are patients with many other ailments who also need medical attention in hospitals. Key stakeholders should harness the flow of capital, expertise and public good to act. —The writer is PhD Candidate in Political Communication

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