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Kenya well prepared to handle Ebola outbreak

OPINION
By James Macharia | Nov 16th 2014 | 4 min read

There have been many questions about Kenya’s preparedness to handle Ebola if it ever crossed into our country but what does preparedness entail? What should you look for to determine whether a country is ready or not?

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) have each given standards that should be met for a country to be considered ‘prepared’ and we can rate Kenya’s state based on the following:
Overall coordination: A country needs to clarify which national authority is in charge of what particular activities. Local and international partners are identified and their roles clarified.

The Ministry of Health is leading this charge and there is already in place a robust taskforce comprising local and international partners such as the Ministries of Transport, Security, Devolution, the Kenya Red Cross, Amref, WHO, CDC, Unicef and others. Each of these are part of sub-committees charged with different functions (for instance, surveillance, case management, logistics, communication) and all are aware of their roles and responsibilities in the fight against Ebola.

Surveillance: This is a key requirement to reduce the risk of Ebola entering Kenya. The government has recently received and installed thermo scanners at JKIA and other ports of entry. Busia, Namanga and Malaba have also received and installed thermo scanners. These scanners remotely read body temperatures and can pick out those who have fever and need to be isolated for further investigation. We also have hotlines for those who may suspect a case. These numbers are operational 24 hours a day and citizens are encouraged to call with any relevant information: 0732 353535 and 0729 471414.

Rapid Response: Because it is hard to predict where the first case of Ebola will emerge, Kenya has trained Rapid Response Teams at both national and county level. County trainings are ongoing—so far 10,000 health workers have been trained and another 10,000 will have been trained by end of December—but national teams are ready and will be the first to be dispatched to stabilise an area with a suspected case.

Rapid response teams comprise clinicians, epidemiologists (these are the medical investigators who can track down potential movement of the disease), lab experts and even burial staff.

Public awareness: There are ongoing advertisements on mass media (newspaper, radio, TV), informing the nation of the risks of Ebola and how to prevent its spread. Community engagement has also began, with county community health workers receiving training and information that they can disseminate to those in their communities. These health workers are empowered to communicate about Ebola in the way that is most relevant to their communities. A multi-tiered communication plan has been developed and rolled out. It is dynamic in nature and will change as need arises.

Isolation facilities: The better term to use is treatment centres, to avoid stigmatisation of those with Ebola Virus Disease. There is one with a 40-bed capacity nearing completion at the Kenyatta National Hospital. Other regions will create temporary isolation facilities based on need. If the surveillance and rapid response functions are efficient, and if citizens cooperate with the government and present all suspected Ebola cases immediately, the country is unlikely to need even those 40 beds. To put things in perspective, America, with a population of 316 million, has nine beds spread across its continent.

Kenya has 41 million people and 40 beds. Nigeria, with its population of 167 million had a total of 20 cases only.
Equipment: We have everything we need to handle Ebola. Personal protective suits and burial kits have been bought and distributed to strategic locations around the country so that they are easily accessible if Ebola emerges. These are WHO approved. In addition, Kenya is the only country in the region with three bio-safety level three laboratories, equipped to identify and contain viruses like the Ebola virus.

The labs can give results in four to six hours and so far we have tested 28 suspected cases which were all negative. We have also taken advantage of ICT to rapidly distribute treatment guidelines to all registered health workers countrywide.
The Ministry of Health is doing all it can to ensure that the country is well prepared for Ebola, including working with the private sector to prepare it for any emergency.

Already, major private hospitals (Nairobi, Aga Khan, Mater and representatives from the Pharmaceutical Association) have been trained on how to identify and handle possible EVD patients. We are currently putting together a non-health worker package other front-line workers like those who work in hotels.

We encourage everyone to do their part to make sure that if EVD comes to Kenya, we contain and eradicate it in the quickest time possible.

We urge the private sector and county governments to support the national government to spread accurate information, (not panic the population), and control infection. We shall keep watching, updating and improving our capacity to ensure that the battle against EVD is won.

The writer is the Cabinet Secretary for Health

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