State-citizen trust crucial in fighting Covid-19

In Summary

•In more advanced countries, access to robust health care is an issue of tremendous concern.

•The medical oxygen, the key intervention and determinant of life and death for Covid-19 patients, is available through piping that comes straight to the ICU bed. 

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe during the daily Covid-19 briefing at Afya House on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe during the daily Covid-19 briefing at Afya House on Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
Image: FILE

The rising cases of Covid-19 infections has exposed weaknesses in our health sector. Our facilities, which normally handle accident emergencies, have never been stretched to a magnitude never witnessed before. We now know that there is serious shortage of ICU facilities and capacity to respond to emergencies. What we do not know is what happened to the money given to county governments by the National Treasury to set up ICU units.  

In more advanced countries, access to robust health care is an issue of tremendous concern. The medical oxygen, the key intervention and determinant of life and death for Covid-19 patients, is available through piping that comes straight to the ICU bed. In our part of the world, it may take up to two hours to look for an oxygen cylinder-even at the best of the hospitals.

Still, all is not lost. A few counties that have indeed built and equipped ICU units. It may be ICU units with only five beds or so but that is still a good effort. The strategies deployed by Kisii and Machakos counties are worth emulating. They have closely worked the Kenyatta National Referral Hospital to build their ICU units, both in terms of structure and local human capacity. They have sought help from the more experienced KNRH to train their staff after setting up ICU facilities.

We should bear in mind that other health emergencies did not go away when the pandemic visited upon us. There is, therefore, competing needs for the few facilities available. It is even more worrying, though an inescapable reality, when Health CS Mutahi Kagwe says home-based care is the sustainable strategy, going forward.

We cannot blame the inadequacies and the increasingly dire and desperate situation we find ourselves in entirely on the government. The Covid-19 is an unprecedented global problem. Our problem is that successive governments have not adequately invested in health care and so the virus met us a vulnerable lot.

There are a number of incidents that brought us to the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) home-care treatment. Like most countries, we started battling the virus with zest and bravado. We had strict contact tracing and quarantine measures. Then along the way, it became apparent that these initiatives were not going to be sustainable.

The enforcement of the curfew by the police created an unnecessary state-citizen conflict and violated the citizens’ dignity and human rights. Someone said the overzealous police would beat those who violate the curfew to death to save them from the Corona virus!

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) observes that the best weapon in the fight against Covid-19 is public trust. The NCIC policy calls for the maintenance of social cohesion and public trust at this fragile moment of the pandemic.

More desperation and further erosion of public trust came when it was alleged that funds meant Covid-19 had been stolen. In addition, politicians started holding public rallies in total disregard to the precautionary measures the public had been told to observe. Public disillusion set in.

It is bound to get worse before it gets better. The health workers, who have lost colleagues to the disease, have pay and promotion grievances. They are striking, so unless their concerns are resolved, it won’t matter if there were facilities or not because the human capacity to utilize those resources is critical.

Another issue that must be addressed is the proliferation of fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories, especially in social media. They create confusion, desperation and apathy. It is gratifying to note that mainstream media like The Standard newspaper, has a section on fact-finding where false information is debunked. The German DW Acadmie is working with local journalists to enhance quality reporting on Covid-19 through verification and fact-checking of news stories.

We need more public awareness and literacy on the pandemic. The truth fosters understanding and therefore more prepared to combat the disease, more so now that home-based care is inevitable. The access and cost of appropriate medical care will remain out of reach for many. The knowledge and skills to prevent and manage the disease that is causing loss of life and suffering could not come at a better time.

 

Dickson Mostoy ([email protected]) is a student of social studies of technology