Enhanced War against COVID-19 now weighs down on the health system

Since the first case of corona virus was reported in Kenya, it has been six weeks of bated breath across the entire republic. With an ill-founded health system, Kenya has introduced a raft of measures aimed at curtailing further spread of the zoonotic virus.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe [Photo|Courtesy]

Nevertheless, we are still grappling with the pandemic, with more than 400 people infected and at least 21 deaths. Just like its multiple spiky appearance, the corona virus scourge has instituted multi-faceted health setbacks that are silently taking on our healthcare system.

I don’t want to sound like a fear-monger but I will give real scenarios that prompted my itchy fingers to land on the keyboard.

Last week, a friend of mine asked me to check out in the pharmacy department if the Hepatitis B vaccine was in stock. I met the pharmacist, greeted him and posed my inquiry.

“We don’t have the vaccine yet and we are uncertain when it will be available. Currently, all efforts are being directed towards the coronavirus fight,” he said.

See folks, the fight against COVID-19 is important, but there more serious yet deadlier diseases than it. Missing a crucial vaccine for example leaves one susceptible to disastrous ailments that could take a 5 second jab to prevent. In the MCH department, chances of children defaulting scheduled vaccines are on the rise because parents have a perception that the hospitals are hotspots where COVID-19 thrive. The result however, is that a child missing out on vaccines is left predisposed to deadly diseases amongst them meningitis, pneumonia, poliomyelitis and measles.

If you are keen enough you have certainly noticed that the fight against malaria has seen a downward spiral. Statistics indicate that malaria is still one of the leading causes of mortality in Kenya with at least 18 000 deaths annually. This translates to 49 deaths daily. A quick comparison with COVID-19 mortality of 21 deaths in about 45 days shows a very wide disparity and therefore decelerating the war against malaria is a big health blunder.

Additionally, the health sector will take a hit because the closure of medical schools means that healthcare workers will have to take a full stretch certainly because final year students are waiting for ‘corona to end’ before joining the workforce. The Nursing Council of Kenya (NCK) for example was forced to indefinitely postpone licensure examinations in the wake of the pandemic. The situation will be ruinous in the coming days because no one knows the time when this pandemic will be contained.

While we stay at home to beat the invincible virus, we are at risk of falling into the trap of sleep-eat-watch-repeat cycle. As health experts warn, physical inactivity is a risk factor for developing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) that are referred to as ‘silent killers.’ This is because the said ailments including hypertension and diabetes do not show obvious signs and symptoms until an advanced stage that is a risk to human life and expensive to treat.
A rule of the thumb this time is to take control of your lifestyle. There is always space on the coffee table; allocate 3 hours of the 168 weekly hours to do some pushups, burpees or skipping a rope. I find it illogical to beat COVID-19 in a way that links you to other lifestyle illnesses.

Further, as the economy experiences a big turndown, there are high chances that Kenyans who survive on hand to mouth are currently unable to feed their families. This means that unless the government moves in swiftly to address the issue then cases of malnutrition and anemia will be on the rise.

•The government through the respective ministries should consider pursuing mass health education on other diseases of medical importance. Priority should also be emphasized on ensuring the supply chain for drugs and vaccines is not interrupted. Assessment for those in need of food aid is equally important.
•The Nursing Council of Kenya should come up with innovative ways of administering licensure exams. For example, there is room to conduct practical exams for nurses who are currently on internship.
•On a personal level, this is not a time for sedentary lifestyle. Take charge on what you and your family eat, and schedule 30 minutes for daily exercises.
•For those suffering Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) at home, maintain a healthy lifestyle, stock enough medicines and keep in touch with your physician when necessary.

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