WAR ON CORONAVIRUS

Kenya needs effective Covid-19 response strategy

Expanded safety nets could provide temporary relief to families whose earnings have been adversely affected.

In Summary

• The deadly and devastating nature of Covid-19 and economic disruption demands a comprehensive strategy.

• A strategy that includes the entire government and the people in addressing short and long-term challenges.    

 

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe announces four more confirmed coronavirus cases during a press conference at Afya House Nairobi on March 18, 2020
Health CS Mutahi Kagwe announces four more confirmed coronavirus cases during a press conference at Afya House Nairobi on March 18, 2020
Image: WILFRED NYANGARESI

The global spread of the coronavirus has overwhelmed health systems in some parts of the world and caused widespread social and economic disruption.

This pandemic is much more than a health crisis. The deadly and devastating nature of Covid-19 and economic disruption demands a comprehensive strategy. A strategy that includes the entire government and the people in addressing short and long-term challenges.    

The strategy will be a pivotal and foundational basis in developing efficient collaborative partnerships among government, private and social sectors and the international community.

A pandemic of this nature cannot be responded through measures that informed by the dictate of impulse, chance and luck. It is not just another humanitarian crisis. When the government has a publicly known clear strategy and the people understand it, it can start planning.

An effective Covid-19 response strategy requires war-like mobilisation of resources and efficient delivery in government. 

Such a response needs to be coherent, sustainable and live to the health and economic challenges.

The magnitude of the health and economic effects is potentially catastrophic. The response should, therefore, be targeted and transparent. Any emergency fiscal policy response should link directly to the pandemic to address the source of the economic shock.

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The national and county governments should immediately prepare and present supplementary budgets that review the 2019-20 financial year allocation to increase spending on public health and provide relief to families and small businesses.

Further, the government should proceed and borrow as set out in the budget but use the funds to create a support base to prevent the economy from sinking completely. In addition, there is need to seek debt relief and rescheduling of loan repayments and utilize those resources to address health and economic needs.

Government should adopt fiscal measures that provide social protection to cushion against shocks, especially for the most economically vulnerable.

Expanded safety nets could provide temporary relief to families whose earnings have been adversely affected. Expansionary macroeconomic policy cannot do much to increase production and employment at a time when the country is near economic shutdown and people are obliged to stay at home.

Jointly, the national government and the counties must enact policies and laws that offer targeted reliefs, including moratorium and life relief funds on rent, food, medical care, loan repayment postponement and small businesses to remain afloat and keep jobs.

While Kenyans have once again demonstrated their generosity and care to fellow citizens, this is unsustainable. The state cannot abdicate its obligations to citizens and or prescribe private solutions to public problems.

Parliament has to adjust fiscal and monetary policy to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and ease access to credit for households and small businesses to help them survive. Right now the tax cuts and reduced interest rates will not work in an economy on its knees.

Authorities should also ensure there are no supply chain disruptions for essentials such as food, medical supplies, and healthcare services.

It is now clear the faster cases are detected, tested and isolated, the harder we make it for this virus to spread. The sooner this is done, the more lives we will save.

 This is a collective effort by all Kenyans but the government must lead from the front with evidence, data and expert modeling to inform decision-making.

 

ENOUGH RESOURCES TO MEDICS

The Ministry of Health and the counties also need resources and capacity to undertake mass testing, contact tracing, clustering, quarantining, isolation and case management. This is the quickest, surest and guaranteed roadmap to flattening the curve. The resurge of new cases in countries that had initially managed to stop the spread is a stark warning not to gamble.

It is important to have decentralised testing under the supervision of the National Public Health Laboratories, and to engage and partner with private laboratory services and research institutions.

The national government and the counties must do everything possible to ensure health workers in the frontline have the support they need.

They must be provided with the information, medical equipment, personal protective equipment and other resources they need. They must also be paid promptly, added allowances and be given relief in taxes and suspension of loan payments.   

The response must also ensure there are plans to deal with their long-term physical and mental health implications. The frontline soldiers must not become patients.

The scale and severity of the pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as freedom of movement.

At the same time, however, careful attention should be given to human rights principles, especially respect for human dignity. Openness and transparency underpin many fundamental rights and freedoms necessary to a more effective Covid-19 response.

The writer is the executive director, International Center for Policy and Conflict @NdunguWainaina