Why is Kenya still inadequately prepared for Covid-19?

Monday, March 22nd, 2021 00:00 |
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Photo/PD/File

Kenya is now in the throes of a third wave of Covid-19 infections. After enjoying a ‘long’ period of sub-5 positivity rate of infections from December 2020 through to February 2021, a new wave is sweeping across the country.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated a positivity rate of 5 per cent and below for two weeks as indicative of a country having flattened the curve.

When Kenya’s first Covid-19 case was diagnosed a year ago, the government went into frenzied activity to prepare the country. 

The most critical aspect was that the hospital system in Kenya needed to be adequately prepared through expansion, resources and implementation of containment measures to ensure it was not overwhelmed.

The upshot it this was that infected persons requiring  hospitalization and intensive care were able to access it at an affordable cost.

What has become clear with the third wave is that the national and county governments dropped this ball and stopped any further preparations.

When the curve was flattened for a couple of months, everybody went back to default- complacency.

That is why during the current third wave, hospitals are overwhelmed with a mere 100 patients in intensive care units (ICUs) of the 800 Covid-19  hospitalisations countrywide. This is a joke.

When Covid-19 landed, Health Cabinet Secretary, Mutahi Kagwe, was for months on end on an aggressive push to get counties to boost isolation facilities and ICU beds.

It seems like the minute the first wave passed sometime in August 2020, he took his eyes of that ball. He hardly does any county inspections anymore.

By all accounts, Kenya will experience more Covid-19 waves until the virus is eliminated from the globe.

CS Kagwe should start by mapping out the critical counties for immediate and concerted attention.

Nairobi and its neighbouring counties of Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos are among that list, as are Mombasa and Nakuru.

Nairobi has opened four new county hospitals of the 24 under construction. It needs to immediately set aside isolation and ICU facilities for Covid-19 in those hospitals. 

But other countries must rev up preparations. Covid-19 can quickly overrun a county as the recent surge in Nyeri County has demonstrated. In other words, prepare for the worst-case scenario. 

The second area that needs ramping up is testing. Most samples Kenya has tested for Covid-19 in any day is 7,000. Why?

A year later, testing facilities at affordable cost should be spread throughout the country.

The perennial excuse of lack of reagents surely cannot still be holding currency one year down the line. The three months reprieve should have been used to stock up reagents. 

Indeed, only by testing aggressively can Kenya reach the last mile infection curve, and possibly the most recent infections.

A testing rate of 7,000 samples a day is too few to mount the kind of aggressive response needed to weed out Covid-19. Aim for zero infections. Others have already achieved this.

The insurance industry is stuck in their own small corner as usual, loath to touch anything that is not traditional or novel. A huge opportunity is passing them by with covid. 

A year down the line, the insurance industry should have developed models that would facilitate creation and deployment of packages that cover Covid-19.

Instead, they are frozen with fear, unwilling to take even tentative steps. Are they even collecting data?

Until the insurance industry starts responding to the dynamics that drive Kenya, they’ll remain forever consigned to the periphery of the country’s body politic and economic ecosystyem.

They still have a chance to redeem themselves. Kenyans badly need Covid-19 insurance. It is time to step up, not twiddle thumbs.

Others sectors have hearkened to support Kenyans at substantial sacrifice.

Lastly, what happened to the aggressive drive for developing Kenyan inventions and innovations and moving them into the marketplace?

Covid-19 came with an outbreak of inventions and innovations.  - Gathu Kaara can be reached at [email protected]

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