Covid-19: Key lessons from New Zealand
By David Maingi | June 16th 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the world's biggest challenges this century. With global infections at more than 7.8 million and with more than 430,000 deaths, the battle to contain it is far from won.
In Kenya, there are more than 3,500 cases and over 100 deaths, three months after the first infection was detected. Whereas the country has made strides towards containing the pandemic, we still have not managed to flatten the curve and realise a decrease in cases.
As we work individually and collectively to contain the pandemic, the question in the mind of many is, what will it take to eliminate this virus?
There is a lot we can learn from New Zealand. The country of five million people has managed to trounce the virus. It has 1,504 cases, 1,482 recoveries, 22 deaths and no new infections since June 8. New Zealand has eliminated the coronavirus.
This is a clear testament that it is possible to defeat this virus if our individual and collective efforts are well co-ordinated.
What lessons, then, can we learn from New Zealand that can help us eliminate this disease?
We use a similar model of testing, isolation, contact tracing and quarantine to New Zealand's. We have also implemented a partial lockdown and advocate for personal protection and social distancing, just like New Zealand. We have closed some of our borders, albeit partially.
One strategy that New Zealand perfected was testing. They have had 310,297 tests, compared to Kenya's 112,171, conducted by June 13, 2020.
New Zealand achieved a rate of 62 tests per 1,000 people in the population compared to Kenya's two tests per 1,000 people. We must drastically increase our daily tests if we are to win this war.
One of the strongest messages coming from President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Health CS is the need for people to take a greater role to protect themselves.
There is need to adhere to set guidelines that include safety and hygiene standards, as well as social distancing.
The government must do its part in testing, isolation, policy and guidelines and all other support mechanisms. Different sectors, including the private sector, civil society, bilateral partners, NGOs, universities and research institutions must work together. Collective effort will get us results.
To support communities, information is essential. In the case of New Zealand, the government went to great lengths to educate and inform the public on the details of its virus elimination strategy.
The public bought into it and that's how they weathered 75 days of restrictions and seven weeks of a strict lockdown.
The public must become part and parcel of the government's virus elimination strategy. It must be clear to them that eliminating coronavirus calls for a sustained effort. It is not an event or activity.
Stigma must be fought with information. Kenya is doing well with information targeted at various interest groups and to the general public in different media outlets. This must be sustained.
This may be a challenge in eliminating the coronavirus. Our borders are long and porous - 3,446 kilometres of land borders and about 1,200km of coastline are hard to police. Our elimination strategy then must involve the region.
Communities that are empowered financially and socially are better placed to fight the coronavirus. Our long-term strategy must include social-economic development through various vehicles.
These includes Vision 2030 that seeks to develop our country into a middle income nation with significant social economic advancement and Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
UHC is premised on a significant investment in health, with a focus on access and equity for primary healthcare services.
Countries like South Korea with better social-economic status are able to handle the Covid-19 pandemic better by deploying available resources.
We must also implement our Big Four Agenda, primarily strengthening our health systems for UHC and rolling out the affordable housing plan on a larger scale. Some of the highest infections are in the informal settlements of Kibra and Mathare in Nairobi.
These long-term interventions will help us tackle this and future pandemics.
Meanwhile, as the world searches for a vaccine, we should use the available 'vaccine': social distancing and personal hygiene to battle this virus.
Mr Maingi is a health systems expert. [email protected]
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