Kagwe invokes Public Health Act to stop virus in its tracks

Tuesday March 24 2020
Kagwe

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe briefs the media outside Harambee House on March 13, 2020, when he confirmed the country's first case of the deadly coronavirus. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ELIZABETH MERAB

When the WHO director-general declared the new coronavirus a pandemic three days ago, he reiterated that it called for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. It seems Kenya heeded the call.

The UN agency’s boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said several countries have been able to suppress and control the outbreak.

But he scolded other world leaders for failing to act quickly enough.

“We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said, just before declaring the pandemic. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”

In the past two weeks, the number of Covid-19 cases outside China have increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled.

Countries have implemented various measures to limit infections, including imposing lockdowns on whole cities, regions and even the entire country.

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KENYA'S ACTIONS

On Friday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe not only broke the news that Kenya had confirmed its first Covid-19 case, something which many had anticipated, but also announced suspension of public gatherings.

In his remarks, the tough-talking minister mentioned something that may have easily slipped through the cracks – that he had invoked the Public Health Act (PHA).

Through the Act, officials enjoy broad legal authority to impose various forms of restrictions during public health crises.

Minimising transmission of infectious diseases is often a core function of public health law.

The legal powers, the WHO notes, will vary according to the seriousness of the disease, the means of transmission and how easily the disease is transmitted.

LAW'S ROLE

This is because the law can contribute to the prevention of infectious diseases by improving access to vaccination and medications, and by facilitating screening, counselling and education of those at risk of infection.

The law also has a reactive role; supporting access to treatment and authorising public health authorities to limit contact with infectious individuals.

Currently, while much emphasis has been put on preventing spread of Covid-19, not as much time and resources have been dedicated to testing for the virus, training the public and healthcare workers to manage it.