A doctor and laboratory specialists get ready with protective gears before visiting the ward for quarantined people who had close contacts with the first Kenyan patient of the Covid-19 at the Infectious Disease Unit of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, on March 15, 2020.

| Yasuyoshi Chiba| AFP

Revealed: Horror of Covid-sick doctors forced to treat patients

What you need to know:

  • A total of 2,352 healthcare workers have tested positive for the virus, out of which 1,177 are male and 1,175 female.
  • The unionist gave an account of how KMPDU made many calls to hospitals in search of an ICU bed for a doctor who died last weekend.

Doctors infected with coronavirus are being forced to continue treating patients, a parliamentary committee was told yesterday.

Union officials said asymptomatic doctors are required to continue working, adding that people with other ailments visiting hospitals may have contracted the virus from those supposed to treat them.

The Senate Health Committee was also informed that a frontline health worker who comes into contact with an infected person does not go into isolation but continues to attend to patients.

Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Secretary-General, Chibanzi Mwachonda, blamed the rising number of Covid-19 cases on the situation.

“With shortage of health workers in Kenya, doctors who tested positive for coronavirus still attend to patients since the number of those who are severely ill has gone up,” he said.

“If doctors get the virus and show no symptoms, they are still made to work. Only those with symptoms or who are severely ill are excluded from duty. We’re putting our lives and those of patients at risk. We’re stretched. Our doctors are working for long hours without rest.”


Nominated Senator Beth Mugo, a former Public Health Minister, demanded to know why the health workers attend to patients even when unwell.

“It’s mandatory that when such workers are infected, they must go into isolation until they test negative,” Senator Mugo told the union officials.

Dr Mwachonda said Kenya faces a shortage of medical workers.

“There is a strain on our workforce. The country must employ more workers as the burnout cannot be wished away. The workforce is stressed. This is part of the reason we issued a 21-day strike notice,” he said.

Feel abandoned

“Workers are wounded, demotivated and feel abandoned.”

A total of 2,352 healthcare workers have tested positive for the virus, out of which 1,177 are male and 1,175 female.

Thirty have died from the disease, according to the Health ministry.

Dr Mwachonda said doctors have been left to their own devices as they struggle with substandard personal protective equipment and no life insurance and risk allowances.

“How do you fight a war when all your soldiers are falling in numbers? We need to be protected,” he said.

The unionist gave an account of how KMPDU made many calls to hospitals in search of an ICU bed for a doctor who died last weekend.

For hours, he said, they struggled to get a hospital with oxygen for Dr Ashraf Emarah,a lecturer of plastic surgery at Moi University, Eldoret. There was no ICU bed at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital — an institution he had served for  15 years.

Dr Mwachonda said the hospital was congested because Uasin Gishu devolved government shut its isolation centres in August, meaning, all the cases were being referred to the referral institution.

When Dr Emarah developed breathing problems, he could not access emergency critical care.

“The system failed a plastic surgeon who had served the region for years. We wanted to take him to Nairobi, but it was expensive. We needed Sh600,000. Eventually, an ambulance transferred him to a hospital in Nakuru,” Dr Mwachonda said.

He said KMPDU had to raise funds to buy drugs for Dr Emarah, with a dose going for Sh120,000. This happened as the union was looking for a way of taking the patient to Nairobi.

Eventually, Dr Emarah died at a hospital that had no oxygen.

He told the senators that doctors are made to raise money from friends, relatives and well-wishers when sick because they lack medical cover.

“You will not believe it when I say Kenyatta National Hospital is holding the body of one of our members who died at the weekend. The family cannot settle the medical bill,” he said.

Wounded soldiers

KMPDU also wants the government to hire at least 2,000 doctors medical officers, pharmacists and dentists on permanent and pensionable terms.

The union said Nairobi has one isolation centre for medical workers. The unit, he said, has 30 beds but no ICU.

“We want a well-equipped isolation centre. When soldiers are wounded, they are quickly flown to hospital. Why is that not being applied to health workers?” he asked.

Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Council chief executive Daniel Yumbya wants more health workers recruited.


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