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Enhance prevention, surveillance strategy to avert disease outbreak

Thursday February 27 2020

coronavirus

A health officer screens visitors at Nakuru County's health offices on February 19, 2020. PHOTO | CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

BENJAMIN MAGAREGIKENYI
By BENJAMIN MAGAREGIKENYI
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On Wednesday, a China Southern Airlines aeroplane carrying 239 people landed at JKIA.

This was despite a flight ban on China. The government had stopped national carrier Kenya Airways from flying to China over the coronavirus threat, raising questions why it’s allowing flights from the East-Asia country, the epicentre of the disease.

In strange twist of events, the Ministry of Health said all those aboard had been screened and cleared by health officials before entering the country.

It, however, asked the travellers to “self-quarantine” for at least 14 days as a precautionary measure.

The Health ministry said Chinese airlines had resumed flights in the country. Ironically, this is the same government which declined to bring home Kenyan students holed up in Wuhan, China, where the Sars-like coronavirus strain Covid-19 was first diagnosed, citing fear of ‘importing’ the disease.

FOREIGN POLICY

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China has been battling an outbreak of the disease, which has, reportedly, claimed more than 2,700 lives and infected nearly 80,000 people.

Outside mainland China, fatalities have been reported in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan, France, South Korea and Italy.

Other nations and regions infected by the novel coronavirus are Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Switzerland, Israel, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Nepal, Russia, Finland, Germany, India, Malaysia and Thailand. Others are UAE, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, UAE, the UK, the US and Vietnam.

The National Health Commission of China says nearly 30,000 Covid-19 patients have since recovered.

From the onset, one cannot fail to notice the reckless behaviour of some government departments and how casually the health of a nation is being handled.

One wonders if this is the Kenyan health policy, assuming we have one. What about our foreign policy? Are Africans being outmuscled or coerced in the face of a real threat?

HEALTH EMERGENCY

Coronavirus is a highly infectious disease from a family of Coronaviridae. In humans, its non-structural proteins provide extra fidelity to replication and spread.

One then wonders why we can’t take serious preventive steps instead of leaving our health in autopilot mode.

On January 30, on the advice of the International Health Regulations (IHR-2005) Emergency Committee on the outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the World Health Organisation director-general declared that the situation constituted a public health emergency of international concern.

As a result, all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of the disease.

At the same time, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, found critical gaps in African countries’ preparedness.

INSUFFICIENT CAPACITY

He advised them to urgently prioritise strengthening the capacities to investigate alerts, treat patients in isolation facilities and improve infection, prevention and control in health facilities and in communities. In short, we must invest in emergency preparedness.

All this is aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19. But in Kenya, we haven’t seen any tangible evidence of preparation.

“Passengers are supposed to self-quarantine themselves and receive calls from MOH.” What a reassuring statement! One wonders how effective self-quarantine is.

Kenya is a developing country with a myriad challenges. If we were to get hit with this disease, would we be able to contain it?

Do we have the wherewithal? Can we build 1000-bed capacity isolation hospital in one week?

According to the International Monetary Fund report, “IMF Country Report No.18/295) of 2018”, Kenya’s poverty rate is still high, at 36.1 per cent, and is coupled with high inequality.

POVERTY

In addition, the report further says that there has been a significant increase in public debt, of 60.7 per cent of GDP, by June 2018 and low purchasing power by many.

This means many ordinary Kenyans will find it extremely difficult to afford healthcare in case we don’t prevent the spread of this disease.

It’s my prayer and conviction that we, as Kenyans and other stakeholders, need to take the issue of our health seriously to avoid calamities.

This includes proactive restriction of our entry points, disaster preparedness, active surveillance, early detection and prevention of onward spread of coronavirus and other infectious diseases.

If we care about posterity, let’s begin asking ourselves and each other deep and hard questions about our collective philosophy or probably lack of cogent philosophy of health.

Dr Magaregikenyi is an consultant general surgeon at PGH Nakuru County Hospital. [email protected]

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