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Patients turned away as hospitals overwhelmed

Health & Science - By Mercy Adhiambo | July 6th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300
Medical practitioners at the Machakos County Covid-19 Isolation centre. [John Muia/Standard]

Concerns over the capacity of hospitals in Nairobi to take in more Covid-19 patients are rising amid reports the sick are being turned away from the facilities.

A work colleague to one of the patients who tested positive for the virus on Thursday painted a grim picture of what is happening to newly-diagnosed cases in the city.

She said when her colleague tested positive, his contacts were shared with the Ministry of Health so that he could be picked up and taken to an isolation facility.

“Ministry officials called but they could not get space for him at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Mbagathi Hospital or even Kenyatta University Hospital. He was told all the facilities were full,” she said.

Despite having a severe headache and chest pains, the sick man was told to go back home as health officials worked to get him space into the overwhelmed system. By Sunday evening, he was still waiting for instructions on how his condition would be managed, even as the situation worsened.

A nurse at the Mbagathi isolation unit yesterday said all their beds are occupied, and they are worried about the rising cases, adding that they had been getting serious cases, especially of people with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer and hypertension.

The nurse said even the 11-bed space that had been allocated to pregnant mothers who test positive for the virus were already taken up. “It is worrying. People need to start taking this disease very seriously. I get worried when I hear people saying Covid-19 is a hoax. They just need to come and see how overwhelmed the isolation facilities are,” the nurse said, adding that they were focusing on very serious cases such as the ones who need oxygen.

No transfer

“What complicates issues is that you are not allowed to transfer a patient with Covid-19 to another institution, so it means they cannot be treated in other counties for now,” the nurse said.

There have been reports that even private institutions are now turning away patients, with several people claiming that Nairobi Hospital has been telling them they are full to capacity in the last few days. “We called Nairobi Hospital when my father was having trouble breathing. They said they were full and not taking any Covid-19 patient,” said Shem Ogolla yesterday.

And indeed, a nurse at the institution confirmed that they had been sending patients away and telling them to seek help from public institutions.

Dr Allan Pamba, CEO of Nairobi Hospital, however, said that indeed people who were calling were being told that there is no space, but it was from internal miscommunication.

He said their hospital has a 47-bed capacity for people with Covid-19, and they currently have 17 unoccupied beds.

“Over the last 48 hours, we have got many cases of Covid-19 patients who need to be admitted, but we are not overwhelmed yet,” he said. The Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi issued a statement on social media saying they have beds set aside for Covid-19 patients and that they were not overwhelmed.

Home-based care

Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna yesterday said they were working with medics to ensure patients who had been admitted to hospitals but were not seriously ill, are discharged for home-based care to free up space for others who are seriously sick.

The Ministry of Health has denied knowledge of anyone turned away from hospital, saying there were still beds available in Nairobi, and that they would do an audit to establish the number of unoccupied beds.

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