PROTECTING MEDICS

For healthcare workers, talk is cheap actions speak louder

Close to 700 healthcare workers have succumbed to the infection.

In Summary

• In the US, alone which is the epicentre of the Covid-19, pandemic more than 9,000 healthcare workers have been infected with the disease, 26 of whom have succumbed.

• The Philippines has more than 1062 healthcare workers infected with over 27 deaths.

Kenyan nurses wearing protective gear prepare a ward during a demonstration of preparations for any potential coronavirus cases at the Mbagathi Hospital, isolation centre for coronavirus, in Nairobi, Kenya March 6, 2020.
Kenyan nurses wearing protective gear prepare a ward during a demonstration of preparations for any potential coronavirus cases at the Mbagathi Hospital, isolation centre for coronavirus, in Nairobi, Kenya March 6, 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi/File Photo

The Covid-19 pandemic has been with us in Kenya now for the past one month, with the first case being reported in the country on March 13.

We now have officially 320 cases with 14 deaths.

Among those who have been diagnosed have been several healthcare workers; fortunately for us, none of these has been lost to the disease.

 

This however has not been the case around the world.

According to medscape.com close to 700 healthcare workers have succumbed to the infection and thousands more have been infected.

In the US, alone which is the epicentre of the Covid-19, pandemic more than 9,000 healthcare workers have been infected with the disease, 26 of whom have succumbed.

The Philippines has more than 1062 healthcare workers infected with over 27 deaths.

Bangladesh and Pakistan each have more than 100 healthcare workers infected with more than 15 of them currently in need of ICU care.

Closer to home Ghana and Tanzania have lost doctors to Covid-19 infections.

The significance of this should not be lost on the Kenyan public, when healthcare workers are not able to work because they are dead or unwell it places a further burden on an under-resourced healthcare system like Kenya’s because these workers do not usually deal with Covid-19 patients only, but also with the patient who has high blood pressure, diabetes, gunshot wounds, fractures, heart disease, the list can go on.

It typically takes six years to train a general doctor and a further 5 to train a specialist.

 

A nursing diploma takes three years, a degree four years and a sub-speciality further two to three years.

It is therefore not easy to replace those who have been lost around the world.

In daily press briefings, Ministry of Health officials has been promising adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.

In fact, the exact quote from the Minister of Health was that “We will flood the country with PPE”.

We have also seen helicopters flying banners thanking healthcare workers for their efforts and numerous tweets from politicians and other leaders offering words of encouragement for healthcare workers.

Unfortunately, when it comes to resource allocation, we still don’t see healthcare workers being given priority.

 Only yesterday, I am quoting from local newspapers we heard that the former “Prime Ministers office has been allocated Sh72 million” and “the late President Daniel Moi’s allocations for domestic travel will also be cut by over half a million to Sh3.2 million” where is he travelling to? Again very recently artists were allocated Sh100 million by the president to “continue entertaining us”.

I want to break this down in terms of PPE; 175 million shillings can buy 250,000 N95 masks or 3.5 million of the regular surgical masks.

This amount could also buy 291,000 reinforced surgical gowns or at least 120,000 of the specialized gowns needed in specialized infectious disease units.

Just imagine what one billion could do or even the Sh40 billion that has been allegedly allocated to fight the fight against Covid-19 by the government.

Instead, we are seeing healthcare workers having to buy these items themselves or in some cases pooling funds to buy these items collectively like in a recent initiative by doctors at the Kenyatta National Hospital which raised over Sh1.5 million.

The reality on the ground is rather different from what our leadership is saying publicly.

I would ask our legislators instead of sending tweets to enact laws that allocate funds for the purchase of PPE for health workers, give them tax breaks and cover their healthcare costs when they are sick.

I have seen Kenyans raise funds for famine relief, flood victims and even for those going for treatment outside the country.

They could raise funds to equip healthcare workers with adequate equipment to do their jobs safely.

To our Finance Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, I would ask that you prioritize those on the frontline in the budget allocations. Our leadership and the Kenyan public as a whole really needs to walk the talk, because talk alone is cheap. Actions indeed speak louder than words.

Dr Nicholas Okumu is a Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon at The Nairobi South Hospital. Email: [email protected]