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Kenya health experts travel to Ebola-hit Liberia to 'monitor situation'

By GATONYE GATHURA | Updated Tue, August 19th 2014 at 00:00 GMT +3

The first group of medical workers left Nairobi for Monrovia, Liberia, on Friday night even as the Ministry of Health moves to equip its potential front-line staff with special protective gear.

Led by Dr Elizabeth Mgamb and Dr David Oluoch who are epidemiologists (experts in the study of transmission and control of epidemic diseases), the team went to Monrovia as fears of Ebola spread heightened.

The fears follow a Saturday attack of an Ebola-quarantined centre in the Liberian capital where bloodied mattresses and blankets were looted and patients chased away.

"While our team will help the host nation, if requested to, they will mainly be studying the epidemic at close range and advice our actions here at home. They will also get into contact with Kenyans living in the affected countries as the need arises," said Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the director of Medical Services.

The outbreak, which by Friday had killed 1,145 people in West Africa, has so far infected over 170 medical workers, killing 70 of them.

The World Health Organisation has called for special measures to protect health workers from getting infected.

"We have secured some 5,000 special personal protective gear which has already been distributed in strategic regional hospitals for use in suspect cases," said the Cabinet Secretary for Health James Macharia.

But as evidence in a recent audit of the national health sector released by Mr Macharia in May shows, many hospitals and health workers in Kenya do not observe precautionary measures as required by professional guidelines.

The national audit report titled Kenya Service Availability and Readiness Assessment Mapping shows more than half of hospitals in Nairobi County, which is at the highest risk of an air travel-linked Ebola outbreak, are ready to offer basic and comprehensive emergency care to patients.

But more than a third of all hospitals in the country, the report shows, do not have safe procedures for disposing of sharps (injections, razors and needles) or even infections' waste. A similar number did not have proper storage facilities for sharps or infectious waste, lacked soap and water and do not have written guidelines on standard precautions as required.

A study carried out last year by the ministry and the Kenya Medical Research Institute showed that health workers carelessly expose themselves to unnecessary injuries and contaminated fluids in hospitals.

The study at the Level Five Rift Valley Provincial Hospital in Nakuru led by Everline Muhonja Mbaisi was published in The Pan African Medical Journal. It showed high level of injuries to workers and contacts with patients' body fluids.

According to the study, 51 per cent of staff are untrained on the proper use of sharp hospital equipment while most facilities lack safety devices.

"To avoid this kind of incidents in case Ebola finds its way here, we have taken 100 health workers through Ebola case management training and some 200 more will be trained in the next few days," said Macharia.