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Why devolution is crucial to winning war against Coronavirus

By Mohamed Abdow | May 25th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Covid-19, which was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 11, 2020, continues to claim many lives worldwide.

Kenya has recorded more than 1,100 cases of coronavirus and the numbers are still swelling. Eighteen people have been confirmed positive in Mandera County so far.

The first two cases were of persons who had travelled from Mombasa to Mandera in total disregard of the travel restrictions issued by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Thankfully, the government has taken measures to try and keep the number of infections in the county down. One such is the closure of Mandera’s borders with Ethiopia and Somalia. This will, of course, help check the spread of virus from the neighbouring countries.

But the measure is not foolproof. Mandera shares a very vast and porous border with Somalia and there is a possibility of people coming to Kenya without using the designated border crossing points.

Covid 19 Time Series


Secondly, the government also moved fast and suspended commercial flights to Mandera as a way of containing the spread of the virus. While this is commendable, it caused major logistical challenges for the county government. Transporting suspected coronavirus samples to Nairobi for testing has become a major challenge. Currently, the samples are taken to Nairobi for testing on a weekly basis. We plead with the government to set up a testing centre in Mandera as a matter of urgency. This will greatly bolster the capacity of the county in dealing with this disease.

We also have shortages of critical protective equipment like face masks, especially for members of the public in rural areas. There is need for non-State actors and other private sectors to supplement the efforts of the national and county governments to provide face masks to Mandera residents.

However, despite these challenges, the pandemic has found Mandera in a better place. This is because devolution has greatly improved the capacity of the county to deal with diseases.

Notably, the number of health workers in Mandera has increased from 150 before devolution to 800. Maternal mortality has reduced from 3,795 per 100,000 births to less than 500 per 100,000 births. These are no mean achievements. Devolution has changed the narrative through deliberate investment in health services in the last seven years, with marked improvement in health service delivery.

New health centres and dispensaries have been constructed across Mandera, making it easier for the residents to access healthcare. The sick do not need to walk long distances in search of medical services. Mothers do not have to deliver without the support of trained healthcare workers because we now have maternity facilities in all sub-counties. 

As a result of devolution of health services, we are now able to respond to a pandemic of this magnitude much better than before. Such a pandemic would have been far much disastrous had it struck eight years ago.

Mandera County Government has put necessary measures to contain the coronavirus spread, including by putting in place more than 120 beds for isolation of patients and a number of other beds for quarantine centres in all sub-counties.

The county has posted enough healthcare professionals dedicated to Covid-19 around the county and has established isolation and quarantine centres in all the sub-counties. Such progress is the product of good working relationship and synergy between the two levels of governments.

For the war to be successful, it is important for security agencies to enforce guidelines issued by both levels of government. In addition, we need to continue civic education to reach areas that have not benefited from the media in order to curb further spread of the disease, especially where poverty levels are high and literacy levels low.

It is important to note that the county administration and her development partners have distributed relief food to vulnerable groups to cushion them against the adverse economic effects of Covid-19. While we support the curfews and cessation of movement into and out of Mandera to contain the spread of the virus, the actions have negatively affected the local economy and impacted heavily on the livelihoods of communities.

The private sector needs to mobilise resources to supplement the efforts of government to contain this pandemic. Finally, I urge all Kenyans to comply with the various guidelines issued by the government to curb the spread of the virus.

Mohamed is the Secretary/CEO, Mandera County Public Service Board and a member of Mandera Covid-19 Task-force

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