Coronavirus in Africa: Is Kenya ready?

Wednesday March 18 2020

Days ago, health services were paralysed for hours at Makindu Sub-county hospital after police officers brought in five critically ill Chinese patients suspected to be victims of coronavirus. Health practitioners at the hospital ran for safety leaving dozens of patients unattended. This could easily be seen as reckless but the sad truth is, this is what happens when there are no guaranteed safety and health measures for health practitioners. These health practitioners rightfully sought their own safety unless of course, we want to pretend that Kenya is that country that protects public health practitioners.

Most public hospitals are in a sorry state and lack drugs, electricity, clean running water, staff, beds and other essentials.  Public hospitals are underfunded with staff who know that they are on their own if anything happens to them. So why then would a health practitioner risk their life when they know that no one has their back? The scare around coronavirus landing in Kenya is real and goes beyond the oath health practitioner takes. Everyone, including health practitioners, is scared of this virus because Kenya rarely has the appropriate measures to stop things before they intensify.

We are a wait and see country that acts after the fact. Currently, a second COVID-19 case has been confirmed in Africa after the Egypt one. What then is Kenya doing to prepare? I believe we can start from the basics; share clear and transparent information.

Educating the public is a key role that the Kenyan government ought to be doing to reduce the obviously growing panic. Telling people what this virus is, what it does, its symptoms, how to protect oneself then explaining the measures they are undertaking to protect Kenyans is a great start. For example, letting people know that coronavirus can infect animals and people by causing a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a good start. The virus is suspected to be transmitted through sneezing, coughing and contaminated surfaces hence the insistence on proper disinfection of all surfaces and washing of hands.

As for countries that don’t have the means to respond to the threat of the virus, WHO urges them to prepare for its arrival. Additionally, these countries like Kenya should be working to protect health workers and engaging groups that are at a high risk by striving to contain the spread of the virus to the highest degree and slowing its arrival. Kenya should at this moment be vigilantly conducting medical checks on all incoming travellers.

I hope Kenya doesn’t drop the ball on this because the consequences will be literally deadly.


Scheaffer Okore is a Policy analyst; [email protected]