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Counties prepare coronavirus isolation wards to beat ministry deadline

Sunday March 8 2020

The coronavirus, COVID-19

An illustration image obtained February 27, 2020 courtesy of the US Food and Drug Administration shows the coronavirus,COVID-19. PHOTO | AFP  

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County governments are setting up budgets and teams to counter coronavirus a few days after the Health ministry opened isolation wards.

Those near international boundaries say they are screening people arriving from other countries.

The counties took action as hotels on the Coast were asked to revise their cancellation policies amid the virus threat as Italians continue leaving the country en masse.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said industry players should adopt lenient cancellation policies to encourage travellers to choose Kenya first, once the virus is contained worldwide.

Mr Balala said banning flights from northern Italy was a difficult but necessary decision.

He praised tourism stakeholders for revising their cancellation policies while urging hotel owners to follow suit.

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By Saturday, some 25 counties had set up isolation wards. Others have up to March 15, a deadline given by the ministry.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Most devolved governments have set up committees and identified hospitals and wards to be used by anyone who contacts the deadly virus.

Homa Bay, Kisii and Nyamira are among counties that have set up special teams and centres to deal with coronavirus.

The Kisii and Nyamira response teams are chaired by governors James Ongwae and John Nyagarama respectively.

The Homa Bay Health department has set up a quarantine centre in Malela, Ndhiwa Sub-County.

The department has also identified and equipped a special ambulance to be used by people suspected to be have contacted the disease.

TRAINING

Homa Bay Health Executive Richard Muga said medical workers are being trained on handling coronavirus patients.

“Apart from the centre in Malela, there is special room at the referral hospital in Homa Bay town that will be used for the same purpose,” Prof Muga said during the launch of Sh275 million ward based development projects at the county headquarters yesterday.

“A special vehicle will help transport the patients to Malela and the referral hospital.”

Prof Muga said the devolved government has procured the necessary equipment to deal with coronavirus infection.

According to the ministry, the virus could easily spread to 14 counties.

These regions have entry points to Kenya or have proximity to points of entry.

SURVEILLANCE

Separately, Karachuonyo MP Adipo Okuome said despite Homa Bay not being in the list of high risk counties, surveillance should be stepped up considering that the region borders Tanzania and Uganda on Lake Victoria.

He added that the county government should set up centres on the beaches to closely monitor traders and fishermen from the two neighbouring countries.

“Homa Bay is also an entry point through the lake. Hundreds of fishermen from Uganda and Tanzania get in and out of the county every day. They should be screened and quarantined if found to have the virus,” Mr Okuome said.

The County Disaster Management unit has called for a meeting with Medicins Sans Frontieres, Plan International, Kenya Red Cross, Unicef, Egpaf and other development partners to identify ways of preventing the virus from spreading to Homa Bay.

Kisii and Nyamira have already set up special committees ready to deal with the virus should it find its way into the region.

In Nyamira, the committee is headed by Mr Nyagarama and County Commissioner Amos Mariba.

Nyamira Health executive Douglas Bosire on Saturday said an isolation ward at Bombangi dispensary is being prepared.

The county has also received personal protective equipment from the government.

It has bought pharmaceuticals and other medical equipment to combat the virus.

PUBLIC AWARENESS

The Kisii County Emergency Response team will be chaired by Governor James Ongwae and County Commissioner Stephen Kihara.

Kisii Health executive Sarah Omache said medical workers have been trained on how to handle patients suspected to have coronavirus.

The executive added that an isolation ward is being prepared at the county referral hospital.

“The ward will be ready by next week. We will have a similar ward at Getembe Hospital if need arises,” Ms Omache told journalists in Kisii town.

Bomet and Kericho county authorities have in the last two weeks intensified public awareness on hygiene in an effort to curb the spread of the disease.

The programme targeted hotel workers, county government employees, students, public service vehicle operators and the public in general.

MCAs SUMMONED

In Busia, ward representatives summoned the county executives for health and agriculture to shed light on the county’s preparedness on coronavirus and the potential invasion of the region by desert locusts.

Assembly Speaker Bernard Wamalwa asked Deputy Governor Moses Mulomi, who doubles up as the county health executive, and his agriculture counterpart Osia Mwanje to appear before relevant House committees within seven days.

This happened as county and national government officials advised residents to use designated roads to Uganda so as not to put their lives at risk.

The development follows an impromptu statement sought by Bukhayo/Walatsi Ward Representative Gardy Jakah who raised concern over region’s preparedness to contain covid-19, considering that the county borders Uganda.

Busia border Health Services chief Joshua Arusei told the Sunday Nation on Friday that authorities are working with their Ugandan counterparts to screen anyone crossing the border.

Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Uasin Gishu County has formed a special 24-member team to handle any outbreak of coronavirus in the region.

Hospital chief executive officer Wilson Aruasa said the institution formed the committee which will work with the task force formed by President Uhuru Kenyatta last week to look into the problem in the western part of the country.

“The hospital management has formed a multidisciplinary team that is working on the coronavirus crisis. We are working under the guidance of the Ministry of Health,” Dr Aruasa, who will chair the panel, said.

“We are also working closely with county governments in the region, faith-based hospitals, private ones and clinics.”

“We will work for the 22 counties. The information regarding the virus should be accurate.”

He added that the task force will train medical personnel at the referral hospital as the Ministry of Health prepares to launch a similar programme in every hospital in the region.

Dr Aruasa said the hospital has 10 beds ready to handle any case requiring isolation.

He added that another 15 beds funded by the World Bank would be ready by March 15.

MONITORING FLIGHTS

At the same, the Uasin Gishu devolved government is working with Eldoret International Airport in monitoring flights to the region.

Eldoret Airport public health officer Jimmy Tsuma said every precaution has been taken to ensure those arriving are screened.

“We conduct screening on passengers arriving with a thermo scanner that is calibrated at 38 degrees Celsius,” Mr Tsuma told reporters yesterday.

“Anyone with temperature higher than 38 degrees Celsius, a running nose, coughs and experiences breathing difficulties is taken for further diagnosis. We will recommend quarantine if necessary.”

In Turkana, the county government has begun screening passengers arriving on scheduled and chartered aircraft.

 In the last two days, all the 186 passengers landing in the region were screened, authorities say.

County Health executive Jane Ajele on Thursday said Turkana has busy airstrips “and we cannot dare leave anything to chance”.

“There is Lokichoggio International Airport as well as Lodwar, Kakuma and Kapese airstrips,” the executive said.

“They record high numbers of passengers daily. Health workers will isolate those showing coronavirus symptoms like dry cough and difficulty in breathing for further screening.”

HANDLING CASES

In Meru County, more than 30 health workers have been trained on handling anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus.

County Health chief officer Kanana Kimonye said an isolation ward has been set aside at the Meru Level Five hospital.

He added that another hospital would soon be identified for a similar ward.

Dr Kanana said more health workers from level four hospitals would be trained this coming week.

In Kirinyaga, medical employees in the 65 hospitals have been trained to deal with the disease should there be an outbreak.

Protective equipment such as face masks, gloves, body bags, gumboots, aprons and disposal gowns have been obtained from the national government as a preparedness measure.

The devolved government has identified two isolation wards at Kerugoya and Sagana hospitals.

Every ward can accommodate 20 patients.

According to Health officer George Karoki, the county is prepared to deal with the disease.

“We pray that the virus does not reach here. Should it spread to Kirinyaga, we will handle the situation,” Dr Karoki said. 

By George Munene, George Sayagie, Samuel Baya, George Odiwuor, Wycliffe Nyaberi, Sharon Achieng, Vitalis Kimutai, Gaitano Pessa, Onyango K'Onyango, Sammy Lutta and David Muchui.