COMMENTARY

Universal healthcare a must in view of coronavirus attack

Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK and the US have the best medical scientists, top hospitals, well equipped and managed

In Summary

• In each crisis, governments tend to make bold decisions.

• Just as it did with the enforcement of the curfew, a decree should follow to have universal healthcare for all Kenyans.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto during the launch of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) pilot programme at Mamboleo Show ground, Kisumu City
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto during the launch of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) pilot programme at Mamboleo Show ground, Kisumu City
Image: PSCU

The whole world has never been held hostage from an attack of such great magnitude like Covid-19.

Scientists are groping in the empty void hoping to clutch onto something they can claim as a solution. Elder citizens who experienced World War II such as Prof Fr Bob White SJ, those who experienced the D-Day landings in Normandy, 1944, look back on the World War II horrors, 75 years ago and node, Covid-19 is terrifying.

But why is this virus terrifying, when we know, there are millions of other viruses? Virologist Kurt Williamson in a Q&A with Joseph McClain on February 18 said coronavirus as among families of genetically related viruses.

 

Coronaviruses, flu and cold viruses are called ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses. These three are all respiratory viruses. The distinction is in their genetic composition because of the assembly of particles and the severity of disease each can cause. Virologists use a number of characteristics to classify viruses. But the general conclusion is that these three viruses cause severe acute respiratory challenges.

The BBC Radio programme of March 25, repeated a recorded programme of May 29, 2003, which explained a similar attack then. The severe acute respiratory syndrome which did not have a name then had struck Johnny Cheng, in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2003.

Within days, an international effort led by WHO had massed scientific experts to fight the mystery illness. Nothing was known of this disease. The infection was described merely as ‘flu-like’, type of influenza that killed 15 per cent of those affected by it. The doctor who first treated Cheng and alerted WHO, was among the six medics who died of the unknown disease.

Within days, this disease appeared in the Chinese province of Guangdong. WHO in Geneva stepped up efforts to contain a possible pandemic. On March 13, 2003, Toronto, Canada, went on SARS alert after a suspected fatality.

On March 15, 2003, WHO named this mysterious disease a severe acute respiratory syndrome ( SARS). Hongkong and Toronto became centres of studying the causes of this SARS. Patients were given steroids to help open up airwaves and clean up lungs. A total of 8,400 fatalities were experienced in China, Vietnam, Hongkong and Toronto. By then, it was recorded that over 5,000 Britons died annually from flu, so a global fatality of 8400 was not so horrifying. The current 2020 situation is serious.

What do we learn from Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK and the US? These countries have the best medical scientists, top hospitals, well equipped and managed. Their response to emergencies is seconds. Yet they stand out as countries that have experienced serious coronavirus attacks. These countries together have had over 40,000 fatalities. Italy tops with over 14,700 fatalities with 20,000 recovered cases. Spain has 11,800 fatalities with 35,000 recovered cases. The US stood at 7,500 fatalities with 13,000 recovered cases.

Germany had 1,280 fatalities with over 25,000 recovered cases. The UK had 3,680 fatalities and a recovery of 135. Globally, more than 1.1 million people have tested positive with 60,500(20 per cent) fatalities and 240,000 (80 per cent) recoveries. Italy, Spain, Germany and the UK have universal healthcare. It means its citizens can access free medical support without families worrying about fundraisers as in Kenya.

This pandemic teaches society that without a free medical scheme for citizens, the rate of fatalities is bound to rise.
REGINALD NALUGALA
 

During the first term of the Narc Government, Health Minister Charity Ngilu (Governor Kitui) had campaigned for universal healthcare for all Kenyans. She wanted Sh100 billion to run the scheme. Her dream never materialised.

This pandemic teaches society that without a free medical scheme for citizens, the rate of fatalities is bound to rise. In each crisis, governments tend to make bold decisions. Just as it did with the enforcement of the curfew, a decree should follow to have universal healthcare for all Kenyans.

County governments can dedicate 40 per cnet of their budget to UHC. It means, in the event of a pandemic such as the coronavirus, the country would sufficiently manage.

The worst of the pandemic is yet to come. The government should be prepared by decreeing universal healthcare. Then reorganise the transport system by introducing trams to ply city routes alongside the current transport system.

To improve social distancing, we need more sitting room.

Professor of social transformation Tangaza University