Hospitals directed to resume elective surgeries

There was outcry after backlog rose to 13,000 and some patients died

In Summary

• Dr Amoth says hospitals should stop postponing cancer treatment, saying it might lead to unnecessary deaths.

• Kenyan health facilities will need about seven months to clear the backlog of all cancelled procedures.

Doctors inside the theater during a surgery
Doctors inside the theater during a surgery


The government has directed all hospitals to resume elective surgeries, following an outcry over the growing backlog of patients.

By mid-May, at least 13,000 surgeries had been cancelled, and the backlog was expected to grow to 21,000 by end of this month. 


The procedures were suspended from March 25 when the government thought Covid-19 cases would overwhelm health facilities. 

Acting director general of health Patrick Amoth says hospitals are now free to resume the procedures.

"This letter is to call you to judiciously resume surgical procedures at your facilities while maintaining the highest standards of infection prevention and control," Amoth said in a memo to all health executives in the counties.

The government had suspended all non-emergency surgeries to reduce the risk of clients being exposed to the coronavirus and to direct all resources toward the intensive management of Covid-19 patients.

At least 10,000 Kenyans were projected to fall sick with the virus by the end of April, with about 400 dying.

But Amoth says the disease has now been contained. 

"The measures and interventions taken to contain the pandemic have hitherto been successful and have slowed down the transmission of Sars-Cov-2 in the community," he says in the memo.


Elective surgeries are scheduled in advance because they do not involve a medical emergency.

However, patients' conditions sometimes deteriorate as they wait. Some die while waiting.

Amoth said hospitals should stop postponing cancer treatment because it might lead to unnecessary deaths.

"During the Ebola pandemic in West Africa, there was a higher number of deaths caused by measles, malaria, HIV/Aids, and tuberculosis, than deaths caused by Ebola," Amoth said.

A recent modelling study by researchers from the University of Birmingham shows that Kenyan health facilities will need about seven months to clear the backlog of all cancelled procedures.

Dr Majid Twahir, the associate dean of clinical services at the Aga Khan University Hospital, says postponing surgeries is a wrong move that may make patients' conditions deteriorate.

"For those who have postponed treatments, surgeries, procedures, vaccinations and clinics, it is important to rethink this decision," Twahir says.

"There is a clinical reason why your physician had made your patient care plan anyway. Don’t wait until the patient becomes an emergency."

Surgeries and hospital admissions are the money makers for private and mission hospitals in Kenya. 

Revenues have dipped by about 50 per cent in many facilities and several of them in Nairobi have issued salary cuts to employees.

Texas Cancer Centre in Nairobi laid off some staff last month. Other affected facilities include the Nairobi Hospital, the Aga Khan University Hospital and the Nairobi Women's Hospital. 

The MP Shah reduced salaries for its employees beginning last month.

“The pay cut will be effective from May 2020 and the gross salary will be adjusted downwards by the respective percentage and will be reviewed in three months,” board chairman Manoj Shah said in a memo in April.


Edited by P.O