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Disaster alert as 12 die of coronavirus in single day

By People Team
Tuesday, July 14th, 2020
Family and friends gather for the burial of Kenya’s first medic victim of Covid-19 Dr Doreen Adisa Lugaliki at Ndalu village, Tongaren sub-county in Bungoma County. Adisa (inset) was a mother of 13-year-old twins. Photo/PD/COURTESY
In summary
    • All the 12 died in Nairobi, with three of them being community deaths which he blamed on failure to adhere to the containment measures put in place by the government
    • Minister also revealed a total of 22 nurses at Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi had tested positive for the virus
    • KMPDU expressed fears that the decision taken by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the Mbagathi Infectious Diseases Unit to suspend Covid-19 sample collection would plunge the health sector into a crisis.

George Kebaso, Bernard Gitau and Yusuf Masibo

The country was yesterday staring at a health disaster after it suffered a record 12 Covid-19 deaths in 24 hours amid reports that the mass testing for the virus was facing serious challenges.

Announcing the new fatalities during the daily press briefing, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe warned that the pandemic was spreading fast and furious across the country.

He said the 12 died in Nairobi, with three of them being community deaths which he blamed on failure to adhere to the containment measures put in place by the government.

“I am very saddened to inform you of the highest number of deaths in a single day since this pandemic struck.

In the past few days, we have observed an upsurge in the number of positive cases; this scenario is likely to continue,” he warned.

The new deaths brought the total number of those who have succumbed to the pandemic since it was first detected in Kenya on March 12 to 197.

Kagwe also revealed a total of 22 nurses at Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi had tested positive for the virus.

 “The situation at Pumwani is under control. Surveillance team has isolated everyone.

We are also prioritising the safety of children and infants but at the moment, the closure of the facility has not been considered,” he said.

Kagwe refuted claims that the nurses were exposed due to lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), saying the government has more than enough.

The crisis in the health sector unravelled as the country’s first doctor to die of coronavirus, Dr Doreen Adisa Lugaliki, was laid to rest yesterday at Ndalu village, Tongaren sub-county in Bungoma County in a brief and sombre ceremony conducted in strict adherence to the Covid-19 measures relating to burial of victims.

Only Dr Lugaliki’s immediate family members and a few relatives and friends were allowed to attend the burial during which she was eulogised as an outstanding gynaecologist who paid the ultimate price in the fight against the virus.

And as the number of deaths and infections continued to soar, investigations by People Daily revealed that the mass testing campaign was facing serious hitches occasioned by the influx of people seeking to be tested in order to obtain clearance certificates to resume their jobs following the partial re-opening of the economy.

Crisis compounded

The crisis was compounded by the move by the various institutions tasked with the running of Covid-19 tests to suspend collection of samples from Kenyans and the huge fees charged by most private and public hospitals and laboratories charged with conducting the tests, which range between Sh5,000 and Sh13,000.

Yesterday, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) expressed fears that the decision taken by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the Mbagathi Infectious Diseases Unit to suspend Covid-19 sample collection would plunge the health sector into a crisis.

 “The only sensible thing for the government to do is to ensure the testing of cases is scaled up to avoid the country slipping into a major health crisis. Why are they stopping the sample collection at a time the disease is getting to the peak in the country?”asked the union’s acting secretary general Chibanzi Mwachonda.

“So many people could have the virus and are not aware of it. It will be important to revive the campaign to test asymptomatic patients who are most likely continuing to spread the virus unknowingly,” he added.

Targeted mass testing that had been launched in Covid-19 hotspots including the Old Town in Mombasa and Kawangware and Eastleigh in Nairobi, has since stopped.

However, while responding to the increased demand by people seeking testing, Public Health Director Dr Francis Kuria said the government is no longer focused on mass testing but was keen on targeted tests through surveillance teams and other samples coming from government-based facilities across the country.

“We are emphasising on individual responsibility as we try to focus on targeted testing,” he said yesterday.

Covid-19 samples

On his part, Kenya National Hospital (KNH) chief executive officer, Dr Evanson Kamuri, said the hospital has not stopped running Covid-19 samples, but was discouraging the influx of many people seeking to be tested because the crowding at the hospital posed infection risk due to breached social distancing protocols.

“We are only testing people who are exhibiting symptoms and not everyone who comes to the hospital seeking to be tested,” he said, adding that focus was now on people who work in the hotel industry.

On Sunday, Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna downplayed the suspension of sample collections by Kemri and Mbagathi, saying the government could not test all the 47 million Kenyans for free.

“We cannot have all Kenyans being tested for Covid-19 at these two institutions yet we have other testing sites that are open to people seeking such services.

We have testing sites at both KNH and Mbagathi main hospitals where Kenyans can go.

Mama Lucy Hospital is also being prepared to offer those services,” he said while admitting that the government was overwhelmed by the large numbers of Kenyans turning up for testing.

And as the crisis unfolded, Kenyans took to social media to vent their frustrations about the exorbitant cost of testing for the disease.

One Karanja wa Mwangi summed up the frustrations, accusing the government of cooking up figures of people being tested for the virus.

“I went to Kenyatta hawafanyi Covid tests weekends. Niko Lancet na we are less than 10 people and you must have a doctor’s reference for you to test so huwezi just walk in na hapa kupima ni Sh8,000, Aga Khan and the rest is Sh10,000....then Mutahi is reading over 3,000 tests done in 24 hours! Anatoa wapi?” he posed.

Only Kemri has been offering free testing services for the virus, for which other laboratories have been charging between Sh5,000 and 13,000 per person.

Yesterday, Kagwe maintained the government was not charging any money for coronavirus testing.

“We are carrying out targeted mass testing with no charges but Kenyans must be informed that we are not testing everybody, we are not going to the streets and testing around, we are doing it for a reason because it is a very expensive affair,” said Kagwe.

He cautioned private hospitals and laboratories conducting Covid-19 tests not to charge exorbitantly, terming the Sh5,000 too high.

With the infection rates soaring following the lifting of the cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera counties, Kagwe said the government has advanced from phone contact tracing to a web-based application.

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