Kagwe: Covid-19 is a new way of life, let’s learn to live with it

Mutahi Kagwe

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe addressing the media after President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off Covid-19 vaccines destined for other parts of the country from Kitengela depot on March 4, 2021.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Why have you not received the Covid vaccine?

I will not take the vaccine until it gets to my turn on the priority list. If I take it before I will be accused of jumping the queue, if I do not take it, I will be accused of not leading by example. So I am not sure which is which and that is why I have chosen to await my turn. The worst thing that could happen is if a nurse got Covid-19 because I have taken the vaccine meant for her.

What has been your highest and lowest moments this past year?

We have had a revolution in the health sector. If you see where we started and where we are now you will notice that there has been a complete revolution. I think that we have beefed up our capacity in all counties. The cooperation we have had with the Council of Governors and the new impetus in health is worth noting. I think part of the silver lining in this pandemic is just the greater focus that the nation has had towards healthcare. Health has been centralised and that is why we talk about a healthy working nation becomes wealthy.

For me it has been very momentous. There are obviously many moments when we have been faced with challenges and frustrations, when for instance in the initial stages when we were struggling to save people yet we did not have enough commodities or personal protective equipment (PPE).

When people were calling me saying they have Covid-19 cases yet they lack PPE to offer their staff for example was very frustrating because everyone is looking at you and expecting solutions but the solutions are overseas. We were able to build local capacity in as far as local manufacturing. Moving forward what I want to push is our capacity in terms of local manufacturing not just for Covid-19 related products but other health related products.

What keeps you awake at night?

When you are in that situation when the country is looking at you for solutions, you get to appreciate that this is not a job, this is a way of life. I do not go home and switch everything off, no! It does not work like that. When you are in the middle of a pandemic, it consumes you and you sleep, eat and wake up thinking what is going to happen.

For instance when I see this third wave beginning its bothersome and I keep my eyes and ears open waiting to hear what is happening in all parts of the country.

And remember, health is not Covid-19 only, there are very many other diseases and challenges all over the place and you have to balance to ensure that you are concentrating so much on one thing that you lose sight of developing the health sector and provision of healthcare.

So you have to keep that balance in place, it’s like a balance sheet where you are dealing with the debits and credits. You must remember that in spite of the challenges while keeping in mind that the pandemic is only on side of healthcare. I have gotten used to it and it has become my way of life

How does it feel to make decisions that you know will hurt some people? Like the curfew and other restrictions?

Those decisions are difficult and are based on evidence and science, it is not something that you just wake up one day and decide. We work with scientists, doctors and modelling teams that advice us and tell us where this are getting most of the infections from and based on that then this is what we need to do.

Different activities lead to times in terms of the spread of the virus and if for instance you are operating at a point where we are flattening the curve then that informs decisions on how to open up and so on and so forth.

You also have to balance that with activities going on in the country and around the world and you ask yourself , if we are going to open schools for example, what can you predict will happen and how will we ensure kids stay safe.

For instance, if you think that a lot of parents will go to pubs and social places then you say ok, children are going to school and maybe we must cut out the socialisation and deal with social distance issues. All these have to be evidence and science based decisions.

How do you think Covid will be defeated?

History has taught us that there is no disease that has persevered forever and if there is one for example, like the common cold, we have learnt to live with it. HIV came, and we were all in panic and now we have learnt to live with it.

There is also the Spanish flu and the plague which almost wiped out the whole of Europe but, somehow the human race has always survived these things and these are challenges that will come and go.

The human race is up to task and my hope is that the current vaccines can be the solution to the challenges we are facing.

How does the Mafia House scams make you feel?

We have not have a ‘scam’ in a while and we want to keep it that way. We want to get our rightful place in terms of our image because we are Afya House and this house needs to be healthy in all ways.

We want to be healthy in terms of transparency and accountability which is why we have taken time to engage everyone in this building to be transparent and accountable because sometime there has been misconceptions among the public because we have not engaged them properly.

With the new systems that we have put in place in the last six months, you will see that the publicity the Ministry has got has been fairly positive.

We have let people know how hard we work, acknowledging and appreciating that health is very personal issue and anything small that happens becomes a big issue.  We have also made substantial changes in our institutions including movement of personnel.

We have made investments in ICT to create the transparency that is requires to deal with the things as personal as the ones we deal with. Fortunately, we are getting cooperation because we have restructures and carried out reforms within the sector.

What lessons has Covid taught you in terms of public health sector management?

I think the importance of public health and prevention measure has really come out. Refocusing our healthcare so that we concentrate on prevention unlike the past, this is because if you look at the disease burden as a result of the hygiene measures that we have taken then you can see a much healthier country. If you think about it, when was the last time we had cholera? I have been looking at the disease in the country and I did not see cholera. This is directly proportional to the issues of cleanliness and we are now working with counties to ensure they concentrate on cleanliness, family health and utilising our community health workers in doing so.

One of the policy shifts we have made is just to make ensure people are visited in their homes, that way we see families save money which would otherwise be used for hospital visits.

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