A patient exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus was rushed to a private hospital in Bungoma County on Monday 23rd March, 2020. Doctors immediately called the County Executive Committee (CEC) member in charge of Health, Dr. Anthony Walela to refer him to an isolation center in Webuye district hospital. The doctor refused to refer the patient to Webuye, instead he referred him to Mbagathi hospital in Nairobi.
Bungoma County Commissioner Abdi Hassan confirmed that the patient was rejected by the local hospitals due to their lack of preparedness.
In the neighboring Kakamega County, health officials in one facility literally took off and scampered for safety saying they have no capacity or training to deal with the cases. The health workers said that they feared contracting the disease since they didn’t know how to handle the patient and lacked protective gear. The patient was left unattended to in the isolation ward after a long commotion.
The two scenarios paint a grim picture in terms of the level of preparedness for counties to deal with the continuous threat of coronavirus. A spot check by RoGGKenya revealed that many hospitals that have been set aside by counties as isolation centers are ill equipped to deal with the pandemic. Bungoma County for instance has no single ICU bed in its public hospitals.
Missing ICU beds
There are only 25 ICU beds in two private health facilities; namely Bungoma West Hospital (2) and Life Care Hospital (23). However, most of these beds are already occupied by patients suffering from other ailments. Health practitioners in these upcountry facilities paint a picture of ill preparedness in the event that the numbers were to surge. By April 5th 2020, the total number of confirmed cases in the country stood at 134, 4 deaths and 4 recoveries.
Many health officers and Government officers at the county level did not want to speak on record fearing reprisals from the coordination team in Nairobi.
Those who spoke requested anonymity. They said, they have not received any training on handling suspected Covid 19 patients. They also added that they have not received protective gear like gloves, masks and gowns as recommended by World Health Organization (WHO).
A senior official at the Webuye isolation facility said a budget of Ksh 123,000 was rejected by the department of health. The money would have been used to purchase the essential protective gear for the health workers. He further revealed that they are only checking temperature of suspected cases at the isolation center in Webuye. After that, they send them home to self-quarantine.
Lack of capacity and equipment
A County official returned from a trip abroad and was arrested and referred to the facility. His temperature was checked before being released to go home.
“We have not admitted any patient in the isolation wards even for observation. We don’t have the capacity to keep the patients here overnight,” said a nurse at the facility. She added that they have only been advising them to go home and follow the government guidelines.
When RoGGKenya visited the Webuye isolation facility, a lot of disorganization was observed. The health workers were all suspicious of any patients. They said all Covid-19 cases must first be referred to CEC for approval before any admissions are done. The situation is the same in neighboring Busia, Kakamega and Vihiga counties. They have also set up isolation centers which are not equipped to handle any case.
The County Medical response teams have been mobilized across counties. However, officials attached to the teams say they do not have the resources to begin preparations. They point an accusing finger at the national government for failing to disburse the much needed funds for them to roll out measures to deal with the pandemic.
Lack of funds
The officials argued that county disbursements have not been sent to the counties. They added that most counties are not able to access emergency funds hence they can’t undertake any activities on the ground.
“The situation is bad in the counties. We are only hoping that they will continue handling the cases in Nairobi,” said a senior County official.
Bungoma County Governor Wycliffe Wangamti however insisted that the County is well prepared to deal with the pandemic. He pointed out that contrary to what is being said in the media, the isolation center is operational and ready to admit patients exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus.
The County Assembly which is supposed to approve the withdrawal of funds for emergency use is currently on indefinite recess because of the pandemic. The Speaker Emmanuel Situma said the County Assembly will hold special sittings when called upon or when need arises. The County Assembly committee of Health summoned the CEC for Health and his chief officer from Monday 6th April to explain the level of preparedness.
It is also emerging that unscrupulous officials in counties are taking advantage of the pandemic to siphon cash in the name of containing the situation. The County Assembly of Bungoma Health committee is investigating a possible case of lost funds meant for sensitization. Bungoma County Department of Finance borrowed Ksh 7 million after the first case was reported in the country. The money was taken from the county referral hospital.
The committee chair, Mr George Makari said that they can only account for the purchase of a few jerricans for hand washing.
“We shall follow up to know how these funds were spent so that we nip corruption in the bud,” he said, adding that many people are taking advantage of the current situation.
Residents are however yet to fully embrace the measures put in place by the government. Many are going on with their daily lives oblivious of the danger posed by the pandemic. Overcrowding in markets, bus stages and on the streets in upcountry have continued unabated.
Related article: Kenyans Still Reluctant to Protect Themselves from Coronavirus
What journalists should do
- Follow up with the County response teams to assess the level of preparedness. Visit the designated isolation centers to confirm what you have been told.
- Interview medical personnel in the hospitals within counties to assess their level of preparedness.
- Monitor the procurement of COVID- 19 items and follow up on how emergency funds are being spent.
- Talk to the residents to assess their level of awareness on the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Talk to people who have been attended to at the county isolation centers and document their experience.
BY ERICK NAKITARE