Jamila’s Memo: Has emergency care in Kenya lost its meaning?


Jamila's Memo: Has emergency care in Kenya lost its meaning?
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker places a stretcher inside of an ambulance at the emergency room entrance of Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center as cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spike in Houston, Texas, U.S., July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

In Summary

  • A fellow journalist recently spoke about the death of her father who was denied treatment at a public hospital in Kitui despite being in critical condition.
  • The hospital turned him away citing lack of PPEs necessary to handle any patient with breathing complications.
  • The doctors said his oxygen levels were too low and thus he could not be treated there.
  • Mzee, who was once an assistant commissioner of police, died as the family tried to look for treatment elsewhere.

Has emergency care in Kenya lost its meaning?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an emergency is an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action.

The second definition is that an emergency is an urgent need for assistance or relief.

My thoughts crumble on this memo following two sad incidents that happened just days apart.

A fellow journalist recently spoke about the death of her father who was denied treatment at a public hospital in Kitui despite being in critical condition.

The hospital turned him away citing lack of PPEs necessary to handle any patient with breathing complications.

The doctors said his oxygen levels were too low and thus he could not be treated there.

Mzee Joseph Wambua Peter had been having kidney problems and needed dialysis.

Mzee, who was once an assistant commissioner of police, died as the family tried to look for treatment elsewhere.

It is important to note that in April this year, the Kitui County Government set up a factory–KIKOTEC– for mass production of PPE kits: they are locally made and exported to other countries.

Also not forgetting the millions of PPEs lying at KEMSA stores because of a scandal that is still being investigated.

A friend of mine also narrated her experience with her sick mum who has heart problems and one day was suddenly unable to breathe properly.

She rushed her mother to hospital expecting emergency first aid to be administered.

However, they were stopped at the parking area and asked to have their temperature checked among other instructions before getting any assistance.

All this while the 70 year old mama was struggling to breathe as she waited for help.

It took more than one hour for any services to be offered by PPE-wearing medical attendants.

Lucky for her, mama’s doctor was able to come and ensure she got the help she needed. The mother is doing well, and mark you, she tested negative for COVID-19.

These two incidents with two different outcomes got me thinking about whether emergency care in Kenya has lost meaning especially during this coronavirus period.

Understandably, it is a virus that has infected and affected millions of people and the thought of contracting it is scary for many.

But I ask, what is the first duty of medical personnel when someone arrives in hospital with an emergency?

How does it help to deny them treatment pending a COVID-19 test?

Who are the medical staff protecting when they withhold treatment simply because they do not know the COVID-19 status of a patient?

What should the priority truly be? To save a patient who is clearly sick or to supposedly protect the rest us from a virus that might not even be present in the sick person?

Sure, people need to be tested when they present COVID-19 like symptoms; but should that take precedence over saving the patient’s life?

Whatever the reasons, this is a national tragedy.

We can’t be saying we are fighting COVID-19 which is invisible when we cannot fight symptoms that are clearly visible such as breathing complications and other common ailments!

We cannot use COVID-19 to shirk the normal responsibility of a health worker or indeed a health facility.

I recognize the selfless work done by a vast majority of doctors and nurses who put their lives at risk each day.

But all I am asking for is a return to basics: a restoration of the meaning of emergency in our hospitals.

Tuwe na moyo wa huruma kuwasaidia wanaohitaji huduma za dharura za afya.

All I am asking is for hospitals to be equipped with PPEs and whatever else they need to help the millions of people who rush to hospitals looking for urgent help, with or without COVID-19.

That is why people are rushed to hospitals when they are sick.

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