Kenya's public health facilities overwhelmed amid third COVID-19 wave

NAIROBI, March 24 (Xinhua) -- The public health facilities in Kenya are experiencing heavy strains amid a surging COVID-19 caseload that has escalated in March as the country grapples with the third wave of infections.

File photo: CFP

Senior health ministry officials said Tuesday that the country was in the middle of a more contagious and lethal spread of coronavirus, which has overwhelmed public health infrastructure.

Rashid Aman, chief administrative secretary in the Ministry of Health, said the third wave of COVID-19 infections, which had entered a critical phase, threatened to overrun the public health system while undermining efforts to flatten the curve.

"We are already in the third wave of infections and expect the positivity rate to increase further hence the need for the public to strictly adhere to containment measures," Aman told journalists in Nairobi.

He said the country's ability to avert an implosion of infections and fatalities hinged on the consistent wearing of face masks, avoidance of public gatherings and hand hygiene.

Kenya's total COVID-19 caseload stood at 123,167 as of Tuesday while the number of people who succumbed to the virus rose to 2,048 as the country experienced a positivity rate of 20.9 percent.

Aman said that a drastic spike in positivity rate had already stretched public and private hospitals to the limit, and boded ill for treatment of other killer diseases.

"The number of patients requiring critical care has increased countrywide and only a radical change in our behavior is required to prevent the worst outcomes," said Aman.

He said that 1,090 COVID-19 patients were admitted to health facilities across the country while 135 were in the Intensive Care Units (ICU) as the capital Nairobi and adjacent counties remained the virus hotspots.

Kenyan epidemiologists had in January warned of the likelihood of a third wave of infections in March linked to the reopening of schools and citizens' indifference to containment measures like wearing face masks.

The epidemiologists based at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) predicted in a study the country could experience 13,700 new COVID-19 cases and 116 new deaths by June as a result of schools' reopening and poor adherence to public health measures.

Patrick Amoth, director-general for Health, acknowledged the dire situation the country found itself amid rapid transmission of coronavirus but clarified the worst scenario can be averted subject to change in human behavior.

"Admittedly, the third wave was inevitable due to a host of factors like easing of travel restrictions, reopening of the economy and failure by the public to avoid large gatherings or wear masks," said Amoth. "However, we still have an opportunity to reverse the trend if the ban on public gatherings, restricted movement and night curfews is sustained. Behavior change is key to curb transmissions."

Experts said the government should earmark additional resources towards upgrading health facilities, hire new personnel to enhance response to the third wave of COVID-19 infections.

Chibanzi Mwachonda, acting secretary-general with Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union, said that revamping public health infrastructure through adequate staffing and expanding bed capacity is key to enhance response to surging coronavirus transmission.

"What the country requires as a matter of urgency is to revamp existing facilities, ensure they have enough healthcare workers, essential medicine and bed capacity to boost their capacity to respond to the third wave of COVID-19 infections," said Mwachonda.

He said that 17 doctors had succumbed to the virus, adding that loss of specialists could undermine the war against the pandemic.

Ahmed Kalebi, head of Lancet Laboratories, said that Kenya should improve COVID-19 surveillance and diagnostic capacity in order to minimize infections, hospitalizations and fatalities.