By Dr Eva Njenga | Chair, Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council
When the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country on the 12th of March last year, many Kenyans were terrified.
The dreaded coronavirus that had killed people in thousands in developed countries that had the latest medical technologies and infected hundreds of thousands, was now in Kenya.
Following the discovery of the first case, the president would then issue a number of directives including travel bans to and from countries with confirmed Covid-19 cases, 14 days of quarantine for all incoming passengers and an immediate suspension of learning and encouraged people to work from home.
A 6am to 7pm curfew was further effected. People’s lives were inevitably affected, socially, economically and psychologically. And for the first time in the history of this country, the luxury of traveling to other countries for leisure, escape or to seek treatment, was no longer there.
There was a period of doom and gloom for thousands of Kenyans, and for a moment, many never thought we could get through it. But as the proverbial phrase goes, every cloud has a silver lining; and rising like a phoenix from the ashes, we slowly, but ably proved that we could make it as a people in a pandemic.
Analyzing how the country has performed in the past ten months since the coronavirus was first reported in Kenya shows a lot of improvement, especially in healthcare. For instance, with the travel bans, no one could seek treatment abroad and all focus shifted towards strengthening the country’s healthcare system.
The president instructed each county to have at least 300 isolation beds to address the increasing demand, in preparation for a surge in Covid-19 positive numbers. As a result, the national and county governments supported our hospitals and institutions to the point of enabling them deal with the virus at their levels.
County governments were able to equip their respective health facilities to ensure that should there be a peak, the facilities would not be overwhelmed. Another key activity undertaken by the government was an assessment of the availability and reliable supply of highquality oxygen whether by gas cylinders, liquid oxygen tanks through central oxygen piping system, concentrators or liquid oxygen plants.
The findings necessitated the formation of a task force to formulate policy and strategic mechanisms to enhance adequate availability and reliable supply of oxygen, a critical component in the treatment of pandemic cases. Post the pandemic, these will still be used for patients who come with other communicable/non-communicable diseases.
Healthcare has also shifted towards telemedicine following fears of contracting the virus in health facilities. The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council has been approving Electronic Health certificates which have helped health professionals engage their patients virtually, allowing diagnosis, treatment and prescription of drugs online, without having to physically go to a hospital.
Alongside other state agencies, the Council has also been providing technical assistance to strengthen the county capacity to handle pandemic situations. Some of our key findings reflected high level of county awareness and efforts to contain the pandemic, albeit constrained by resources and infrastructure.
Another improvement witnessed in the past 10 or so months is the critical role played by doctors, community health workers, nurses, clinical officers and other cadre of health workers who are critical in Primary Health Care (PHC) at the community/grass roots level.
Through them, communities learnt about the importance of hygiene and social distancing. In many counties, more than 1,000 Community Health Volunteers were trained to handle the pandemic to support the health care worker efforts. These efforts went a long way in not only reducing the number of Covid-19 infections, but also infectious diseases like colds and flus, diarrhea, cholera among others.
Looking forward and noting the critical role health workers play in any society, the government should look into boosting its support for this group in all cadres and implementing Universal Health Coverage to ensure that we are ready and capable to deal with any future pandemic.
This can be done through the training of more specialist doctors, investing in specialized treatment and capitalizing in primary/ preventive healthcare at levels 2 and 3. There is also need to enhance partnerships with Faith Based Organizations and private sector in health, seeing the critical role the private sector played in the pandemic.
The most important lesson that none of us should forget after this pandemic is that health is not domiciled in the Ministry of Health; it is everyone’s responsibility. We should all continue to be involved as players to enhance positive impact on health outcomes.