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Improve quality of briefings to reassure Kenyans

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TOM MSHINDI

By TOM MSHINDI
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As numbers of those infected with Covid-19 increases by the day, the prayer of many is that the hospitalisation numbers of those critically unwell do not escalate.

The country simply does not have sufficient doctors and other health professionals to effectively handle a sharp spike numbers of those needing hospitalisation.

The country’s doctor-to-patient ratio is woeful at an estimated 1:15,000 (compared to the recommended World Health Organisation ratio of 1:1,000).

Not all of the few professionals available can competently handle the virus, though, admittedly, the first port of call for the select few will be their regular specialist.

For the majority, it will be the medical officer that filters patients at casualty. It becomes really tight when heart care, lung care or obstetric specialists have to be called in because they are even fewer.

If ventilators become as central to the management of Covid-19 patients as has been the case in China, Europe and America, then anaesthetists must be called in. Kenya has barely 100 of these specialists.

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While efforts by county governments of Mombasa, Machakos and others to increase bed capacities and create special spaces to attend to Covid-19 patients are laudable, the test of how much value they add when they finally on stream is in doubt, even if they are to attend to patients not needing the delicate ICU.

Even before the pressure for these specialist skills becomes intense, there is significant concern about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for frontline workers – nurses, ambulance attendants, cleaners, technologists in labs, and doctors.

Hazmat suits, surgical masks and other accessories are not reaching all the destinations intended in spite of reports of donations the government has received or purchases it has made.

It well might be that either the materials bought or received are being hoarded so that imports brought in by enterprising traders can sell, or they themselves have been diverted into the commercial market.

Either way, it is quite frightening and annoying to see heart-wrenching lamentations from doctors on social media describing the horror of conducting operations with flimsy cloth as the only protection!

These are the issues that the briefings by the Ministry of Health needs to start addressing.

The numbers tally, while interesting, is hardly useful expect for underscoring the message that Kenyans need to take personal responsibility to protect themselves and others from the virus.

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What is the actual state of preparedness in Kenya in case we do get a surge? Was the simulation that four weeks ago predicted about 10,000 infections for Kenya by the end of April too pessimistic or are we not testing enough?

How many testing kits does the country have and what are the ideal testing levels? When the Cabinet Secretary promised mass testing starting last week, what did he mean? Institutional testing like the Kenya Ports Authority is doing? Or setting up mobile and other testing centres in various spots across the country?

How is the PPE distribution being handled? To whom are they being released? Surely, it should be possible to give a breakdown of how many units have been sent to which hospital so that media and other interested parties can know who to hold accountable.

And what are the contingencies in place in case we are unable to dodge the bullet? As I said, efforts to increase bed capacity is a simple response.

How are those beds going to be made to count if the curve peaks? In crisis communications, believability is key and that is a function of the quality of information being shared.

Talking of quality, the manner in which the quarantine issue has been handled is raising a lot of concern. From choices of where to quarantine, who to quarantine, at whose cost and living conditions at those locations, the handling has been largely catastrophic and needs urgent overhaul.

If quarantine is not forceful detention in conditions reminiscent of police cells, then police should have little or no role in it.

People that can self-isolate at home with minimal supervision should be allowed to do so. Locking up families in cramped spaces because one is suspected of being infected rather than quarantining them at their homes is dumb.

The writer is a former Chief Editor of the Nation Media Group and is now Managing Partner for Blue Crane Global. ([email protected]; @tmshindi





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