How Kibos Sugar Factory, state agencies exposed Kenya to Covid-19 delta variant

A nurse attends to Covid-19 patient recuperating at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu County on June 10, 2021.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Earlier this year, Kisumu County recorded the first ever cases of Covid-19 Delta variant. Five foreigners who were working at a private firm in the region, tested positive for the variant.

The news sent shockwaves all over the country as the government grappled with the virus’ fast spreading nature. However, it has emerged that the catastrophe could have been avoided had the relevant government agencies acted fast.

Nation.Africa can reveal the blunders, miscommunication, recklessness and collapsed surveillance system by the immigration department, Ministry of Health and Kibos Sugar and Allied Companies Limited. The Delta Covid-19 variant has killed many people in the country.       

The revelations were made during a sitting by the Health Committee of the National Assembly in Kisumu. The team was in Kisumu to establish the circumstances under which the five foreigners, who tested positive for the new Covid-19 Delta virus, got into the country. The committee is probing a petition by a Kisumu resident Mr Charles Ochieng Attyang.

Identified gaps

The committee chaired by the Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege identified gaps that led to the spread of the deadly Covid-19 Delta virus. The committee put to task the immigration department, Ministry of Health and Kibos Sugar.  

Immigration Department officials were asked how they allowed the five individuals into the country despite India grappling with the Delta variant.

According to Mr Tom Anyim, deputy director at the Immigration department in Nyanza, the five foreigners entered the country on diverse dates with the first coming on September 1, 2019 and the fifth one arriving on March 21, 2021 at 1317 hours.

But when asked to explain how they allowed those with the Delta Covid-19 variant to enter the country, the immigration official shifted the blame to the Port Health officials for not screening those from foreign countries at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Mbeere North MP Charles Njagagua and his Ndhiwa counterpart Martin Owino asked the immigration department to take responsibility, being the bearer of the stamp that allows individuals into the country.

Negligence

“We deny any form of negligence was not on our part. The first point of call is the Port Health that looks at the Covid-19 certificates of foreigners. As part of a multi-agency team, we issue work permits after they are cleared,” said Mr Anyim.

Kenya had not placed India on red alert and allowed its citizens to fly in and out of the country until travel restrictions were announced in April after the variant was detected in Kisumu.

Mr Anyim said during that period, they issued 25 foreigners from India with Class D permits which are usually given to those hired to do specific jobs. The 25 were cleared as accountants, ICT officers, engineers and clerks.

Vihiga Woman Representative Beatrice Adagala asked why the immigration department gave permits to foreigners to perform jobs that can be done by locals.

“We have sons and daughters who have graduated and have no jobs, yet a factory like Kibos brings in people who expose an entire population to the virus,” said Ms Adagala.

 Covid-19 tests

But the Port Health team led by Head of Department of Health Services Jackson Muriuki and Acting Head of Division Disease Surveillance and Response Dr Emmanuel Okunga absolved themselves from blame saying they carried out Covid-19 tests and the five were found to be negative at the time they were entering the country.

“For you to know someone has the variant, the symptoms have to be visible but the five travellers did not show any signs. When one is asymptomatic, it is quite difficult to tell,” said Mr Muriuki.

He added: “We have a multi layered screening and testing and the possibility of getting it wrong is almost 99 per cent impossible. The patients were screened and they passed, we had no reason to stop them from entering the country.”

After the five entered the country and went to the factory, an alarm was raised after one person died.

This prompted the factory to carry out mass testing for all the employees who had been in contact with the foreigners. From 104 samples collected, 58 turned positive while five had the Delta Variant. Five more people, including cooks who were serving those who were isolated, also tested positive.

The committee wondered why two cooks were allowed to interact with isolated individuals at the hostel.

However, the concern raised was the breakdown of communication between the factory, prison and the Kisumu County government health department who were only notified about the testing and isolation at the Kibos Prison Laboratory, 17 days later.

Contact tracing

Dr Gregory Ganda said they got information very late and this made it difficult for them to do contact tracing to prevent the spread of the virus that had already spread in the neighbouring communities of Kajulu, chiga, Kibos in Kisumu East and Vihiga.  

“By the time we were getting this information, it was too late and the virus had already spread to the third generation contacts. We carried out 187 tests and found 13 people positive. This forced us to step up surveillance, and carry out rapid tests and contact tracing,” said Dr Ganda.

A taskforce comprising officers from the Ministry of Health and those from the county government of Kisumu proposed a possible lockdown to control the spread of the virus in the county.

When Ms Chege asked why the Kibos factory and prison officers kept the county government in the dark, Mr Raju Chatthe, a Kibos factory director, said they panicked.

 “When one expatriate died at the factory, we panicked, leading us to carry out mass testing,” Mr Chatthe told the committee, adding that they scaled down operations during the period.  

Chatthe Group Corporate Affairs Manager Joyce Opondo, said they assumed Kibos Prisons had notified the county government and the national government of the Covid-19 tests and results.  

Kisumu County Director of Public Health Fred Oluoch revealed that since the tests were carried out at a government correctional facility, the tests were assumed to be of prisoners and therefore treated as confidential for security reasons.

“The factory management should not have carried out tests; they should have gone to the nearest sub county hospital. We learnt that the tests were not made available to us because they were done from a security zone area until they realised that some of the people were foreigners,” said Mr Oluoch.

Mr Owino said: “It is sad that people died like chicken because of a breakdown in reporting and communication that could have stopped the spread of the disease.”

The sugar firm management said they hired 43 foreigners because they needed experts for installation, commissioning and maintenance of equipment.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.