With a population of more than 600,000, Baringo is one of the most ill-equipped counties in the fight against Covid-19.
As the pandemic enters the third month and the virus spreads to 22 counties, Baringo has only two isolation units — at Kaptimbor Dispensary and Eldama Ravine Hospital — with a paltry 17 beds.
A spot check by the Nation revealed that the facilities have nothing much to show save for beds and an oxygen tank, sparking fear of a catastrophe should the pandemic get out of hand.
Governor Stanley Kiptis, who co-chairs the county coronavirus emergency committee with County Commissioner Henry Wafula, had — during the launch of the isolations wards — pledged that his administration would set up more units, but this is yet to be done two months later.
This has put the county’s disaster preparedness in limbo in the vast region with a poor communication network.
In arid and semi-arid areas of the county such as Tiaty, for instance, residents travel for more than 100 kilometres to access the nearest health facility. This was witnessed last year following a malaria outbreak in the area, which claimed more than 20 lives.
“We’ve been left on our own. We fear for the worst should a corona case be reported here as we will be forced to travel all the way to Kabarnet, over 200 kilometres away,” said Paul Lotudo, an elder from Chemolingot.
Residents from far-flung areas of the county have proposed that isolation wards be set up in each of the six sub-counties to ease response to the pandemic.
According to Mr Kiptis, the devolved unit has trained its health staff on handling and management of suspected Covid-19 cases and more personnel will be trained in due course.
But health workers who spoke to the Nation complained that they have not been adequately enabled to combat the pandemic.
National Nurses Association of Kenya Baringo Branch Chairperson Elizabeth Yator said some of their members were not aware of basics of handling coronavirus patients or taking care of themselves to prevent infection. “We’re perturbed to hear claims by Governor Kiptis that isolation wards have been set up at the region’s major hospitals. Where are those wards? We are yet to see any. Health workers have not been trained on the infection preparedness as he claims,” she said.
“We neither know the basics of taking care of ourselves nor our clients should coronavirus cases be reported in Baringo. We will all die, including patients,” she added.
The nurses claimed that there was a big shortage of health workers in the county, which would deal a massive blow to the fight against the virus.
But County Health Chief Officer Winnie Bore said 800 health workers had been trained to fight the pandemic.
She said that the devolved unit was equipping Mogotio Sub-county Hospital to be a coronavirus treatment centre. The Baringo County assembly has set aside Sh200 million to fight the virus.
In a special sitting last week, the assembly approved the revised report of the Budget and Appropriations Committee on the Governor's Memorandum on the Supplementary Appropriations Bill.
In the report presented by the assembly’s budget committee chairman, Mr John Aengwo, the assembly approved Sh101 million to be allocated to the emergency fund with Sh31 million to support the Covid-19 response team.
More than Sh70,000 was set aside for food and non-food items for vulnerable populations.
The county’s disaster risk department plans to provide food and non-food items to more than 200,000 vulnerable people in the region.
Sh30 million was allocated to the water department to be used for supplying water and other water related support.
“The assembly sourced Sh200 million from various budget entities towards financing the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The reductions in project allocations are harmonised per ward to ensure that each has almost equal contribution,” Mr Aengwo said.
Though no coronavirus case has been reported in the county, a suspected case was reported at Kampi Samaki on the border of Baringo North and Baringo South sub-counties last month and the man was taken to hospital. The 26-year-old man is said to have arrived in the country from Dubai after passing through Rwanda.
The county has set up equipment for screening people at Mogotio and Oinobmoi in Iten. Apart from fighting coronavirus Mr Kiptis’ administration is also grappling with floods, which have displaced close to 4,000 people after Lake Baringo broke its banks.
HIDING IN BUSHES
Banditry is also wreaking havoc on the region. More than 500 people have fled their homes in the insecurity-prone Yatya and Ishakanin villages on the border of Baringo North and Tiaty sub-counties after armed bandits killed two people.
Locals have been fleeing to Bartabwa and Barbarchun areas for fear of more attacks from the armed criminals who are believed to be hiding in bushes.
Bartabwa ward MCA Reuben Chepsongol acknowledged that locals were at risk of contracting coronavirus because they have been forced to camp in bushes in large numbers.
“Where will the displaced people go and where will they get food? They are now living in bushes and we fear that coronavirus will spread fast if they come in contact with an infected person. Children, expectant women and the elderly are the most [at risk]," Mr Chepsongol said.