Most Kenyan regions ill-prepared to tackle COVID-19 pandemic, senate warns

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Most of Kenya’s 47 local authorities are not properly equipped to deal with the coronavirus health crisis, which weakens the country’s fight against the pandemic, a senate committee warned.

FILE PHOTO: A police officer directs motorists and riders before a curfew as a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in downtown Nairobi, Kenya April 27, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The East African nation has 384 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease and local authorities are central to the fight against the pandemic since they are in charge of health services, under the co-ordination of the ministry of health.

“Most counties still lack adequate supplies of personal protective equipment; have poorly equipped isolation and treatment facilities,” the committee said in a report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

“(They) have not facilitated adequate COVID-19 training and sensitization for their health workers.”

There were only 297 ventilators, with just 90 of them in public hospitals, the committee found. At least 30 new ventilators acquired by the ministry of health due to the pandemic were yet to be distributed, it said.

“Critically ... a shortage of oxygen and basic oxygen equipment in the counties further threatens Kenya’s ability to care for and manage COVID-19 patients,” the senate’s special committee on the response to the pandemic said in the report.

The ministry said it has been deploying the equipment based on requirements as assessed by its experts, as well as within the constraints of the resources available.

Crucially, the report found that statements by public health authorities diverged with the reality reported by frontline workers.

While the ministry maintained that adequate quantities of personal protective equipment had been distributed to counties and health facilities, the committee cast doubt.

“These claims were at variance with the overwhelming majority of stakeholders who appeared before the committee, including the COG (council of governors) and health worker associations and unions,” it said.

At least more than 5,000 workers are also being recruited by the county authorities to help in the fight against the coronavirus, the senate committee said in its report.

Other obstacles hampering the effective fight against the pandemic include lack of material to carry out more tests for the disease, the committee said.

Only about 18,000 tests have been carried out so far, according to health ministry briefings, in a population of 47 million, and against a capacity to carry out 37,000 tests daily.

The committee blamed the low testing rate on lack of skilled lab personnel, lack of adequate sample collection kits, insufficient reagents and some faulty test kits which were received as donations.

It called for an additional funding allocation of 790 million shillings to the country’s medical research institute in order to redress the testing situation.

($1 = 107.1600 Kenyan shillings)

Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Jonathan Oatis