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Kilifi's virus figures raise queries as testing stops


A Kenya Redcross medical officer mesures the temperature of people crossing into Kilifi County from Mombasa County. [File, Standard]

Last Monday, Kilifi County reported its first Covid-19 case in about two months.

Authorities claimed that the victim came from Mombasa, which like Kilifi and Kwale in the Coast region, are under lockdown after infections erupted in March.

Kilifi Director of Communication Erick Ponda claimed that the Covid-19 surveillance team received information from residents that an infected man who works in Mombasa sneaked into Kabaokiche village in Kaloleni Sub-county last week, and tested positive for coronavirus after falling ill.

Since then, the Ministry of Health has not announced any new infections in Kilifi, raising questions about the victim. Six cases were reported on March 22.

According to ministry statistics, the county has recorded 10 cases since Kenya announced the first coronavirus case on March 13. But Kilifi officials disputed the figure, saying three locals who tested positive for Covid-19 and live in Nairobi were added to the county tally.

Earlier, Governor Amason Kingi attributed the county's success in the war on Covid-19 on contact tracing and treatment.

"All who had been isolated have been discharged from hospital, although the danger of new infections remains," he said.

But many doubt reports that there are no new infections given the absence of mass testing. Some experts noted that no new cases had been recorded because mass testing was never done on a large scale, or had stopped owing to a lack of personnel, kits and reagents.

Besides, due to stigma and ignorance, many residents are believed to have shied away from testing.

On March 22, there were fears in Kilifi after Deputy Governor Gideon Saburi failed to self-isolate on his return from Germany. The State claimed he tested positive for Covid-19, but he denies this.

After Mr Saburi was committed to mandatory quarantine at Coast General Hospital, county officials isolated 499 people that had come into contact with him.

Of the 499, six tested positive for Covid-19. Mr Kingi revealed that the six were treated at Jibana Health Centre and discharged.

According to a report by county health officials, no fatality from Covid-19 has been reported in the region. In April, the county embarked on mass testing targeting journalists and health workers, but by May 1, only 840 people had been tested before the exercise was halted.

Edwin Muinga, formerly of the Kenya Medical Research Institute cautioned that “it will be a costly mistake” for health officials to be complacent or declare victory against the virus just yet.

“There is no scientific study to conclude that there are no local infections or to say that Kilifi County has succeeded in stopping local infections,” he said.

Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union Coast Branch Secretary General Abidan Mwanchi said there is a likelihood the virus is within the Kilifi community, saying: “We have passed the mass testing stage. We should now test the old and those with pre-existing medical conditions and equip hospital to deal with emergencies.”

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