WORRIES OVER NYANZA

Hospitals stock up for fourth Covid wave, likely next month

Ministry of Health officials have been informed by Kenya Medical Research Institute that infections could rise rapidly.

In Summary

• Kenya is entering the cold season, likely to lead to more cases.

• The pandemic is trending upwards in 14 countries, including Kenya, and in the past week alone, eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30 per cent.

A nurse in a hospital isolation ward for Covid-19 patients.
COVID BEDS: A nurse in a hospital isolation ward for Covid-19 patients.
Image: FILE

Public and private health facilities are quietly stocking up in preparation for a major surge in Covid-19 cases next month.

Although no official predictions have been shared with the public, Ministry of Health officials have been informed by the Kenya Medical Research Institute that infections could rise rapidly next month in a fourth wave, the Star has learnt.

The World Health Organization has also advised Kenya and other countries in East and Southern Africa to urgently boost critical care capacity because cases will surge during the cold season.

Kenya’s coldest season stretches from June to August.

“Weak observance of preventive measures, increased population movement and interaction as well as well as the arrival of winter in southern Africa have heightened the risk of Covid-19 resurgence in many countries,” the WHO said in a statement.

WHO said the few available vaccines should be given quickly to groups with the highest risk of death.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of Covid-19,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

Local experts have also warned the county to prepare.

Global public health expert Bernard Muia predicted Covid-19 cases will climb up as early as next week, beginning in Nyanza, as a result of recent political gatherings there.  

The SARS-Cov-2 incubation period – the time between when you contract a virus and when symptoms start – is two to 14 days.

Dr Muia suggested Kisumu could be more affected because thousands of people gathered for several days for Madaraka Day activities.

“I don’t see how the cases won’t go up, even if we don’t test people,” he said.

Muia also noted the country is entering the cold season, which is traditionally the flu season in Kenya and this could lead to more cases.

“We don’t have vaccines, so we must fight the virus with what we have – the health protocols: social distancing, handwashing and wearing masks,” he said.

Head of Amref Health Dr Githinji Gitahi said the best strategy is to over-prepare.

"Governor Anyang' Nyong'o, I request you, quickly stockpile oxygen delivery systems (oxygen, health workers and critical care beds). In a pandemic, the best strategy, like in war, is to over-prepare," he said.

Yesterday, Prof Nyong'o confirmed cases in Kisumu had quadrupled last week, compared with the first week of May. 

From May 31 to June 5, Kisumu reported 780 Covid-19 cases, compared to 168 cases between May 3 and May 9. 

"Mortality  within the county has increased  from an average  of 12  at the peak last year to a new peak of  18 per week," Governor Nyong'o said in a statement yesterday.

He closed county offices until further notice, except for essential services. 

Nyong'o also announced bodies must be interred within 72 hours after death. 

"All mortuaries in the county must not keep bodies for more than 48 hours. Funerals, cremation and other ceremonies must be conducted on the same day bodies are are removed from morgue before 2pm," he said. 

The governor also advised people not to physically attend church, mosque or temples "for their own safety."

The new threat in Kenya comes after Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday closed schools for 42 days to beat back a surge in Covid-19 cases.

He also banned some travel, shut down weekly open markets, and suspended church services.

Mutheu Kasanga of the Kenya Private Schools Association pleaded with the Ministry of Education not to close schools even if cases surge.

"As of now we know that children are safer in schools than at home, thus the need of keeping schools open as long as possible; this is the recommended by the WHO and Unicef. Closing should be the last resort," she told the Star. 

Kenya Parents Association chairman Nicholas Maiyo said amid a looming fourth wave, the government lacks a plan for schools.

“The fact of the matter is we haven't done much to ensure that the schools stay safe. We haven't done much to measure the level of danger,” Maiyo said.

He said parents are also divided—some are terrified to have children in school in case of a fourth wave, while others are desperate to have the institutions remain open.

Indimuli Kahi, the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association, told the Star that the best preventive measures for learners will be use of masks in schools.

“Those vaccinated will also be required to keep their masks on as well as they too are likely still spread Covid,” he said.

With the pandemic receding for every vaccine that reaches an arm, Kahi remained hopeful more teachers and school workers will get the jab. 

The latest data by the Teachers Service Commission in May revealed that 152,641 teachers had been inoculated before the end of the first phase of vaccination.

However, the Ministry of Health yesterday played down the threat of a fourth wave. 

Director of Public Health Dr Francis Kuria told the Star the country should not panic just because the WHO says infections are rising in Africa.

"There should be an advisory from the ministry if that happens. You don't scare Kenyans because WHO thinks so; you look at the science nationally, it is not a roadside declaration," he said.

Private hospitals are also stocking up not to be caught unprepared in case numbers rise. 

Parklands-based MP Shah Hospital has constructed a new oxygen production plant, which will be launched by Health CS Mutahi Kagwe on Tuesday.

Head of biomedical engineering and maintenance Millicent Alooh said at the height of the third wave, demand for medical oxygen shot up from 20-30 cylinders a day to 100 minimum.

“Having a production plant at the hospital is the only cheaper option and one that can effectively handle the high demand of oxygen hospitals are facing,” Alooh said.

However, chairman of the Kenya Association of Private Hospitals Dr Abdi Mohammed said they have not received any help from the government. 

"We even use our cold chains to store the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the only thing we received is the vaccine, which we give for free," he said.

In its statement, the WHO said people must now adhere to Covid-19 prevention protocols because vaccination rates are too low in Africa. 

In total, 48.6 million doses have been received on the continent and 31.4 million doses have been administered in 50 countries.

Altogether, only around two per cent of the population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, compared to 24 per cent globally.

In Kenya, a total of 975, 835 people had received their first dose of the vaccine on Monday while 13, 194 had received their second dose.

“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups," said WHO Africa director Moeti. 

"I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care,” she added in a statement.