China has been battling an outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19), which originated in Wuhan, Hubei province.
To date, the virus has claimed more than 2,700 lives and infected nearly 80,000 people around the world.
Outside mainland China, fatalities have been reported in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, France, South Korea and Italy; Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Switzerland and Israel, among others.
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The other nations affected by the novel coronavirus are Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Nepal, Russia and Finland.
Also affected are Germany, India, Malaysia, Thailand, UAE, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, UAE, the UK, the US and Vietnam.
According to the National Health Commission of China, nearly 30,000 people have since recovered from the coronavirus infection.
We have to remember, however, that this is the official account; an explanation that is well intentioned, but which must be interrogated.
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From the onset, one cannot fail to notice the reckless behaviour of some government officials and how casually health matters in our country are being taken.
One wonders if this is Kenya’s health policy, assuming we have one. What about our foreign policy? Are Africans being out-muscled or coerced in the face of a real threat?
Coronavirus is a highly infectious disease from a family of Coronaviridae. In humans, Coronavirus’ non-structural proteins provide extra fidelity to replication and spread. So one wonders why we can’t take serious preventive steps instead of leaving our health system in autopilot mode.
On January 30, 2020, on the advice of the International Health Regulations (IHR-2005) Emergency Committee regarding the outbreak of novel coronavirus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General declared that 2019-nCoV constitutes a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’.
This was a wake-up call for all countries to prepare to contain the virus, including through active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread.
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At the same time, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, found that there were critical gaps in readiness for African countries.
He advised governments across Africa to urgently prioritise strengthening their capacities to investigate, treat patients in isolation facilities and improve infection prevention and control in health facilities and communities.
In short, we must invest in emergency preparedness. All this is aimed at controlling the spread of the disease.
It’s my considered view that as Kenyans, we are not prepared for the coronavirus threat.
As a medical practitioner, I can tell we haven’t seen any tangible evidence of preparation. How then can you expect the likes of my mother in Kisii to be prepared?
On February 26, a Chinese plane carrying 239 people touched down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport despite an earlier flight ban.
The Ministry of Health said passengers had been screened and cleared by health officials before entering the country.
It, however, asked the 239 passengers to self-quarantine for at least 14 days as a precautionary measure.
‘Passengers are supposed to self-quarantine themselves and receive calls from MoH’. But one wonders how effective self-quarantining can be.
This essentially depends on goodwill from the passengers. What if they are lying? How can calls be an effective way of managing disasters of this magnitude?
Ironically, the same government which allowed the flight has refused to bring back Kenyan students holed up in Wuhan.
If the government has stopped national carrier Kenya Airways from flying to China, it remains unclear why it allowed flights from the East-Asia country despite the coronavirus threat. Kenya is a developing country with a myriad challenges ranging from poor infrastructure, HIV/Aids, cancer, and chronic diseases, among others. If the country is hit by coronavirus, would we be able to contain it?
Can we build a 1,000-bed capacity isolation hospital in one week like the Chinese did?
According to an International Monetary Fund report, Kenya’s poverty rate is still high at 36.1 per cent.
In addition, the report further says there has been a significant increase in public debt of 60.7 per cent of GDP by June 2018 and low purchasing power by many Kenyans.
This means many ordinary Kenyans will find it extremely difficult to afford healthcare in case we don’t prevent the spread of this disease.
It is my prayer that all Kenyans, more so the government, will take this issue health emergency with the seriousness it deserves.
This includes proactive restriction of our entry points, disaster preparedness, active surveillance, early detection as well as prevention of onward spread of infection.
If we care about ourselves and posterity, we need to begin to ask ourselves the hard questions about our collective philosophy on health.
Dr Gikenyi is a consultant general surgeon. [email protected]