The stupidity of fixing ventilators in private homes

A low-cost ventilator developed by Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC) and the School of Public Health at Makerere University. PHOTO | KMC

What you need to know:

  • A ventilator can cost anything up to Sh5 million, so these chaps have a lot of loose cash hanging around.
  • Even better, buy 100 or so beds hospital beds that will be of greater utility value than a ventilator.

A story published on Friday reporting that six people of means are so desperate about the possibility of contracting the coronavirus they have installed ventilators in their homes displays not only extreme paranoia but stupidity carried to extraordinary lengths.

Apparently, five governors (two from the Coast, two from Nyanza and one from the upper eastern region) and a businessman from the North Rift have decided that they will insure their own mortality against the weaknesses of the health system.

A ventilator can cost anything up to Sh5 million, so these chaps have a lot of loose cash hanging around. Loose, and in all probability stolen from the public. These are paranoid and dumb people – there could be more – that confirm the common joke that political leadership is often the domain of pettiness!

Here is the deal. Use of ventilators generally is often the least preferred, last resort option for patients unable to breathe on their own. They need these machines to act as their lungs and, as a rule, a patient on a ventilator is under intensive care in ICUs.


 A patient in ICU requires virtually round-the-clock critical care from specialists, including the very few anaesthesiologists that we have in the country. They need the hawk-eyed attention of the, again very scarce, critical care nurses available.

In a word, therefore, these six gentlemen plan to convert parts of their homes into ICU centres. Space is clearly not the problem here as we assume they have the infamous “palatial homes”, to use the common lingo of our journalists.

But assuming that the Covid-19 infections get out of control (as they will if Kenyans do not stop tempting fate), then those ventilators will be as useful as the door mats they wipe their feet on before entering their palaces.

All the 180 or so anesthesiologists we have in the country will be too busy nursing thousands of patients in hospital ICUs, as will the critical care nurses. Chances are that even those in retirement will be asked to come out of retirement and help. It is unlikely that the private home ICUs will have anyone to man them.

Cynics may argue that if these guys can afford a ventilator, nothing stops then from hiring expertise from Cuba or wherever in the world they can find extra hands in this time of severe need. That may well be true but why, at a time when so much effort has been put into educating people how to avoid infection, should such wastefulness be witnessed?


Is it not much easier and infinitely less expensive to just observe the basic measures to stay safe: keep your home safe and stay there as much as possible; social distance if you must be in a crowded place; do not cough in the faces of other people; observe basic hygiene as much as possible (wash hands and/or sanitise); and if you suspect you have Covid-19, seek medical help.

If people have the capacity, as these gentlemen clearly do, donate the ventilator to the nearest health facility that can make much better use of it. Even better, buy 100 or so beds hospital beds that will be of greater utility value than a ventilator.

Yet, in this foolish selfishness we see another sobering indictment of the country’s health system. It is the system that those entrusted to make it effective have plundered and/or ignored so much so that when they fall sick, they travel to India, South Africa, UK, US or lately, Dubai, to get treated! 

One could hope that the small silver lining that comes out of this pandemic will be the realisation that successive governments have done a horrendous job of guaranteeing health for all.

We expect that the pandemic leaves behind many more well-equipped hospitals and that it needles the government to start treating our doctors and health workers with utmost respect.

 Tom Mshindi is a former Chief Editor of Nation Media Group and is now Managing Partner at Blue Crane Global consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi)