Pandemic: The hits and misses in Kenya’s fight against Covid-19

Parklands Covid fumigation

Members of a privately-funded NGO working with county officials fumigate and disinfect at Parklands City Park Market in Nairobi on April 15, 2020, during the dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by the Kenyan government to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Photo credit: Luis Tato | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The shutting down of the airspace as a precautionary measure was a plus. It afforded the government time to map out its Covid-19 strategies, though this would later fail.

It has been almost a year since Patient Zero, the country’s first person to be diagnosed with Covid-19, hit the headlines.

Since then, Kenya has gone into overdrive to protect its population against the virus. It got a lot of things right, but also made mistakes.

From the Covid-19 containment measures to lockdowns, allocation of funds to formulating quick strategies, Kenya was on the right track, but poor implementation, coupled with bad manners by the political class, has badly affected the war against the virus.

The allocation of Sh5 billion Covid-19 emergency response funds to counties was a hit.

It enabled the devolved units to put up isolation centres. With the funds, the health infrastructure got a makeover. The number of ICU beds rose to more than 300 for the first time.

Counties took the lead, sprucing up Level Five hospitals and buying equipment. It was also impressive to see devolved units commit a further Sh5 billion to the emergency fund.

The shutting down of the airspace as a precautionary measure was a plus. It afforded the government time to map out its Covid-19 strategies, though this would later fail.

Almost all sectors formulated policies that would allow them to reopen; from aviation, tourism, education to healthcare.

Lockdown

The first lockdown proved effective, given that movement was prohibited in Nairobi and Mombasa. Infection numbers were largely controlled. However, because of the economic meltdown, this was lifted.

In coordination with the national government and administrators, counties formulated measures to stem the spread of the virus. They closed markets, restaurants, bars and socials places while enforcing social distancing. The government pushed every county to have 300-bed isolation and quarantine centres at the minimum.

Months before, counties appeared about to be caught flat-footed with struggling health systems. Weeks later, they had scrambled to offer isolation units. Despite getting some things right, Kenya also had misses.

The government struggled to keep up with the testing due to a shortage of reagents. At one point, institutions like the National Influenza Lab and KNH had massive backlogs of unprocessed tests.

Contact tracing

When the first case was reported, the country set up a command centre to trace contacts of patients and ensure they were quarantined.

This strategy worked in the initial stages because there were few chains of transmission. However, as the cases rose, it became hard to trace contacts effectively.

By September, the government had abandoned contact-tracing, sending the Covid-19 war on a downward spiral. Lack of appropriate technology to back up tracing and poor reports from counties saw this key element all but abandoned.

There was no disclosure of where the testing was being conducted. The government flip-flopped on random testing, failing to take into account geographical areas and population groups.

The Ministry of Health failed to conduct extensive surveillance of Covid-19 and flu-like illnesses. It also failed to identify geographic clustering of cases to trace transmission hotspots. For health workers, the call to duty was akin to suicide. The government offered lip service to their concerns.

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