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Covid won’t be kind to our failures

By Ken Opalo | March 27th 2021

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho receives Covid-19 jab at Coast General Hospital. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Does Kenya have a vaccination plan? This question has occupied many people’s minds since the arrival of vaccines under the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative. The uncertainty over the answer is also a telling reminder of the persistent gaps in our service delivery architecture.

Before the arrival of the one million doses of the vaccine from COVAX, we had at least two months to come up with a distribution plan and the eligibility criteria. Reasonable people would have assumed that health workers, those above 65 years old, individuals with co-morbidities, and essential workers in the hospitality industry and public sector would have been the first in line.

To make this work, the government should have announced ahead of time where the vaccines would be administered to those eligible. With that in place, it should have taken no more than a few weeks to administer the entire batch of one million.

That did not happen. Instead, the Ministry of Health appears to have been on a warpath to introduce as much confusion to the process as possible. Rumours started spreading online about possible vaccination points and eligibility criteria.

Others claimed that multiple vaccines, including the Russian-made Sputnik-5 were available for purchase. Then there was confusion over whether the government had actually certified that the available vaccines met safety standards.

The resulting foggy situation not only slowed down the vaccination process, but also introduced doubts about the safety and efficacy of available vaccines. If someone set about the bungle a vaccine rollout in the middle of a pandemic, they would struggle to do worse than what we have witnessed over the last three weeks. To rub salt into our collective wound, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came out with the boneheaded idea of offering to vaccinate diplomats serving in Kenya. Forget our healthcare professionals and vulnerable populations! Also forget that several of the diplomats in the country have access to doses from their home countries. Why do our public officials hate us this much?

The failure to prepare for the vaccine rollout is emblematic of the government’s general posture over the last year in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. There has never been a comprehensive plan. Absolutely none.

In fact, for the better part of the year the political class has treated the pandemic as a nuisance that got in the way of their quest to either mutilate the constitution or lay the groundwork for 2022 campaigns. That is why for months they kept holding huge rallies and attending crowded public functions all over the country. These acts of denial would occasionally be punctuated by attempts at lockdowns or gestures towards improving the bed capacity in our hospitals. However, in true Kenyan fashion, the public attempts to do the bare minimum to contain the virus were complemented with grand theft of Covid-19 funds. We blew through hundreds of billions of shillings – much of it borrowed – with little to show for it.

At the moment we are in the middle of a third wave that feels like it is the worst yet. Hospitals are stretched to the limits. People are dying, even if we never get to count all of them. Families are grieving. This is the crushing consequence of our leaders’ insouciance for the better part of a year.

Let that sink in: it has been more than a year and we do not seem to be doing any better than last March. Perhaps our leaders think they can wait this pandemic out. Or that the “international community” will come to their rescue through charity. But what if they do not? What will be the plan then?

-The writer is a professor at Georgetown University

Covid 19 Time Series


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