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Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s briefings have provided rich fodder for memes and helped to lighten what is a grave situation. But time has come to ask the government a few hard questions regarding its ability to handle the Covid-19 pandemic. We know the well-intentioned closure of our borders and the travel restrictions came too late.

The invisible enemy had already docked on our shores and all that was left was to brace for the flood of deaths that rocked other unfortunate nations.

Luckily, that did not come to pass. Three months on, and despite a spike in the number of infections, our death count is low. The number of recoveries has risen steadily and there has been rejoicing. Who can forget the highly publicised recovery of a televangelist-cum-politician?

It appears like we are on top of things. But the war is far from won. Recent first-hand observations by The Standard on Sunday point to glaring shortcomings. During the day, you would be mistaken to think that Nairobi metropolis is not under siege from a killer virus. With the exception of now common face masks across faces and hanging under chins, it’s business as usual.

Pedestrian traffic is back to pre-Covid-19 days. The Green City in the Sun turned shamba la mawe must feed its burgeoning population, after all. Thanks to this facade, we have lowered our guard in anticipation of a victory announcement.

As fate would have it, this writer recently learned about the true horror of succumbing to the virus. This after a chance encounter at a morgue with a family who recently lost their mother to the disease. The Standard on Sunday shares an exclusive interview with the woman’s daughter that lifts the veil on how truly unprepared we are to deal with this pandemic. Because of the stigma associated with Covid-19, our source requested anonymity. We shall call her Jane Doe.

“My mother has never been the sickly kind. Despite being in her early 60s, she was as healthy as the proverbial ox. But a fortnight ago she complained of chest pains and malaria-like symptoms. A trip to a city hospital returned a diagnosis of pneumonia,” said Jane.

Her mother was discharged and advised to test for Covid-19 as a precaution.

That was easier said than done.

Shortage of reagents

“A day-long search for the highly publicised government-designated facilities offering free testing was problematic, never mind the billions of shillings pronounced for this exercise. We had to contend with extended queues and a shortage of reagents. But mostly we were faced with the real possibility of a delay in getting her results.

“The family turned to a private laboratory, Lancet Kenya, and paid Sh8,000 for the test. Barely 24 hours later and they got the news that their mother had tested positive. “As the shock set in, the lab informed us that they had passed on our data to the Ministry of Health as required by the government. We were advised that a doctor would be in contact to advise on the next move,” said Jane.

The entire family was asked to immediately self-quarantine and they obeyed. They did not know what to expect but thought it would be a smooth exercise like what the CS talked about during his evening briefings. But the reality was sobering.

“For starters, no official came to check if the self-quarantine directive was being adhered to. It took self-discipline not to leave our suburban quarters for a walk. The other discrepancy we noted was that the doctor assigned to mother’s case would call 24 hours later. He advised that the best option was for mother to stay home and nurse the pneumonia because the isolation facilities were overwhelmed.”

Jane said the doctor assured them that their mother stood the best chance of recovery at home. They were also reassured by the fact that she had no known underlying medical conditions. Besides, her condition had greatly improved. So it was perplexing when she collapsed in her house the next day.

“She had just eaten lunch and was following up on her construction projects on the phone when she began sweating profusely and gasping for air. We started running around like headless chicken,” said Jane.

As expected, their first thought was to call the 719 hotline. The operator transferred them to an attending doctor who despite being informed of the patient’s status coolly explained that they were overwhelmed and it was up to the family to find a private alternative.

The government-designated doctor who had been dealing with the case hung up when he heard the news and never contacted the family. The daughter said they started a frantic search for an ambulance and eventually got one that charged them Sh20,000 upfront.

They agreed on a meeting point but as fate would have it, their mother never made the trip to hospital. The ambulance crew pronounced her dead and fled.

A traffic policeman who happened on the scene ordered that we report the matter to the nearest police station before following suit and vanishing into thin air.

Not more than 72 hours had passed from the time of diagnosis to death. The distraught family drove to the police station where they met officers who did not know the protocol on how to deal with the situation. They were forced to transport their mother to the morgue in the family car.

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Burial permit

“We were told that State regulations for Covid-19 deaths only allow for a 48-hour burial window. We paid Sh3,500 for a burial permit. We were also issued with travel permits by the chief and police. The rest of the preparations were conducted virtually and with great difficulty, a far cry from the befitting send-off we had hoped to give mother,” said Jane.

There was more heart-breaking drama on the day of the funeral, with irate local youths threatening to block the proceedings, and fumigators in their full-body protective gear disrupting the brief one-hour ceremony.

“The entire exercise was what I can only describe as pure hell. We were not even allowed to step into the house. We all had to return to the capital immediately under heavy police guard.” Jane said she did not know whether her mother’s death had been included in the Health ministry’s daily bulletin.

But the county fumigating team did pay them a visit three days after the family got in touch seeking to have the house and car disinfected.

“To their credit, they were very professional and comforting as they undertook what must be a taxing chore.” Jane said she noticed that despite the extension of travel restrictions for a further 30 days, there were long queues at the police road blocks that made her wonder whether we are a country of essential service providers.

As the family travelled to central Kenya, vehicles with red tags in the funeral cortege were subjected to intense scrutiny while fellow motorists were waved on with nothing more than a cursory temperature check, if at all, and a glance at the travel documents proffered by drivers for inspection.

“It is exactly one week since death visited our home. Lessons from this encounter, however, are not lost on us. All family members have undergone testing at great cost and our results came back negative. We are now sitting out the prescribed 14 days of self-quarantine,” said Jane.

She confessed that doubts were creeping in about what really killed their mother given that none of them had the virus. But with a post-mortem out of the question, the family might never get closure.

“No government official has visited our home to condole with us or give us direction. My humble verdict as an onlooker is that Kenyans are not ready for what is yet to be revealed. If you are over 50 years, it is prudent that you stay home until there is a permanent solution.” Jane said people with underlying medical conditions like asthma or lung disease should also be extra-careful.

She also had a grim parting shot.

“From our experience, it was evident that government help is currently non-existent. Every family should prepare for an emergency evacuation should the need arise. While at it, prepare psychologically to deal with these private sharks who are minting gold from this crisis. Above all, act and pray that the grim reaper does not knock on your door.”

By Standard.co.ke


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