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One year later counties still ill-prepared to handle virus cases

Health & Science
 An Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a county referral hospital. [File, Standard]

As the third wave of Covid-19 sweeps across the country, the focus turns to counties' preparedness in dealing with the rising cases.

Already, health facilities in counties’ are overwhelmed by the growing numbers of patients. 

One year down the line after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the country, some of the devolved units are still struggling to handle patients.

The tribulations of an Embu Journalists Association member fighting for his life at the Murang’a hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU) have emerged as the poster case of the anguish of Kenyans unlucky to catch the virus.

The journalist was transferred to Murang’a allegedly because the ICU at the Embu County Hospital could not cater for his oxygen needs forcing his colleagues to protest.

But an Embu county official speaking on condition of anonymity accused the journalists of engaging in a self-serving protest after trying to have their colleague jump the queue in hospital.

A spot check by Sunday Standard revealed that some counties are yet to set aside adequate isolation wards and ICU beds.

But other counties have done remarkably well in dealing with the pandemic by setting up more isolation wards for the growing number of patients.

In North Rift, for instance, counties are revamping isolation wards.

Not functional

The major challenge facing counties is lack of adequate trained health workers for ICUs to take care of critically ill patients.

West Pokot County, has six ICU beds and 300 isolation beds at the County School of Government in Kapenguria.

But Health Executive Jackson Yaralima said the ICU beds are not functional due to a lack of trained personnel. 

Yaralima told Sunday Standard that training of health workers to man the ICU was rolled out this week, following a surge in cases. 

“A team of health professionals has been trained to man the ICU and attend to patients in critical state,” he said.

Uasin Gishu Health Executive Evelyn Rotich said they have 20 ICU beds.

“Total ICU beds in Uasin Gishu, including those at MTRH and other facilities is about 20. But we are encouraging the public to observe set Covid-19 containment measures to protect themselves, and avoid exposure to the virus,” said Rotich.

Turkana County has 38 Covid-19 patients under home-based care. 

Dr Gilchrist Lokoel noted that the county has three ICU beds for Covid-19 cases at Lodwar County Referral Hospital. 

Plans are underway to procure 12 more ICU beds. 

In South Rift, the number of Covid-19 patients in need of hospitalisation is on the rise, with ICU beds almost full.

“Our ICU beds are full due to high number of patients in critical state. For example, PGH and Naivasha are full to capacity,” said a health official who sought anonymity in Nakuru County.

The county has opened Covid-19 isolation units in Langa Langa and Bondeni Maternity that had been closed.

Kiambu Governor James Nyoro announced that Tigoni Level 4 Hospital will only handle Covid-19 patients.

Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga has suspended county government meetings, trainings and public gatherings for 30 days to curb spread of coronavirus.

Mr Kahiga noted that on Thursday the county had a positivity rate of 25 per cent, compared to the national average of 17 per cent.

“This is largely attributed to laxity in adherence to the protocols and public health measures,” he said in a briefing on status of Covid-19 in the county.

In Meru, Health Chief Officer James Kirimi said the county has four ICU beds and nine High Dependency Unit beds in public hospitals. The county has an infection rate of 10 per cent.

He revealed that the two prisons in Meru town and Kangeta in Igembe Central were Covid-19 hot spots.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe was expected to launch the Meru ICU/HDU unit yesterday but all engagements involving Governor Kiraitu Murungi were suspended when he contracted Covid-19.

Health Executive Misheck Mutuma said coronavirus cases in the county are rising. He noted that in January they had only two cases but now they have risen to 157.

“The infection rate is high now. We had only two cases by January but the number now is 157. We do not have any challenge yet because we have 402 isolation beds in the sub counties,” Mr Mutuma said.

Go for testing

In Murang’a, there are five Covid-19 patients at the Murang’a Intensive Critical Care Centre, while another nine are in isolation units.

Statistics from Kisumu County department of Health and Sanitation show that Covid-19 positivity rate has doubled within one week from 2.5 per cent to 4.7 per cent. There are four patients in ICU.

In Kisii County, Public Health officer Richard Onkware noted that Kitutu Central Sub County has been recording the highest number of Covid-19 cases since March last year.

Dr Onkware attributed this to high number or residents who go for testing in centres within the sub county. 

“There is nothing unique about the sub county. Those who reside within town tend to go for testing as compared to those living in rural areas,” he said.

There is a 310 bed isolation facility at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital. The hospital has 15 ventilators and 15 ICU beds.

Vihiga county government has a five-bed ICU facility which is not functional. Health Executive Amos Kutwa said they have not commissioned the ICU unit due to lack of oxygen plant.

Dr Kutwa said the oxygen plant is expected to be complete and functional by April.

“The ICU facility will start functioning after the oxygen plant is completed.

Such a facility without oxygen is useless and that is why we are working around the clock to launch it first week of April,” he said.

Kakamega county Health Executive Collins Matemba said they have 16 ICU beds but only six are in use.

“Currently, two beds are occupied while 10 others are not in use due to incomplete electrical and mechanical works,” he said.

Busia County Chief Officer for Health Isaac Omeri said they are experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases in Matayos and Teso North constituencies.

He said truck drivers and prisoners are the most affected. 

[Reports by Mercy Kahenda, James Omoro, Stanely Ongwae, Eric Abuga, Anne Atieno, Mactilda Mbenywe, Gilbert Kimutai, Boniface Gikandi, Phares Mutembei, Robert Amalemba, Nathan Ochunge, Bernard Lusigi, James Munyeki, Weldon Kipkemoi and Renson Mnyamwezi]  

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