The shame of Counties: Lack of ICU Beds, ventilators cripple Kenya’s COVID-19 fight

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Uhuru’s presidential address was one of the most-watched speeches of all time. Many turned on their television sets looking forward to a return to normalcy, a wish that was however not granted. Citing reasons to why Kenyans would not go back to their normal lives, was the sorry state of the health care in counties. – By Gerald Gekara

When it was introduced in the 2010 Consitution, Devolution was touted as the ultimate game changer in combating the overburdening of city resources, encouraging more and more Kenyans to seek top class health care services from their home counties.

Fast forward to 10 years, little strides have been made. How do we know this? The Coronavirus pandemic has proved to be the ultimate litmus test for every country’s health care system, and for Kenya, not much can be written home.

During the Presidential Address, President Uhuru Kenyatta outlined the reason as to why the state cannot resume normalcy. Among the key talking points was the state of county health care facilities, and their inability to handle an influx of critical patients.

Citing Siaya County, the president indicated that the county, who’s leader is coincidentally a brother to Health CAS Patrick Amoth, had only 10 ICU beds, as opposed to the minimum threshold of atleast 300 isolation beds.

“Siaya for instance has a 10-bed isolation facility. Busia county has a 34-bed isolation facility that was full two days ago. If there is a surge in infections in the counties, the health care system will be overwhelmed…Are Kenyans ready to nurse COVID-19 patients at home?,” Uhuru asked.

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According to state projections, the country has not yet attained its peak. The awaited option of reopening the economy would inturn inject unprecedented pressure on health care systems, which could end up collapsing.

“I have applied my mind to the different scenarios presented by our experts. And I have reconciled myself to the fact that to ‘open’ or not to ‘open’ up is not a dilemma between a right and a wrong. It is a dilemma between two rights,” Uhuru said.

According to a study released by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kenya urgently needs an additional 1,511 intensive care unit beds and 1,609 ventilators to cater for a possible one million Covid-19 cases.

However, the country has 537 ICU beds and 256 ventilators. Hardly half of what is required. The study also outlined that only 22 out of 47 counties have at least one ICU unit.

As counties gear up to visit the State House to present their levels of preparedness, Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to put to task Council of Governor’s chair Wycliffe Oparanya, who has been agitating for counties to receive more funds to prepare for Coronavirus.

“The question we must ponder is whether we have met this threshold in order to lift the restrictions. Have the cases of infections taken a down turn, for instance? And the answer is no. Nairobi and Mombasa are taking the lead with new infections,” President Uhuru said.

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