OPINION: Act now or Kenyan hospitals will be overrun, doctors warn
You do not remember this but that Wednesday afternoon you were overwhelmed by boredom after staying home for four consecutive days.
So, when your friend who lives in the same estate as you said he was having a barbecue, the thought of some nyama choma and the chance to exchange stories about the COVID-19 pandemic was too tempting to pass up.
You drove out and made a stopover at the supermarket to pick up a six-pack of beer. You and your friends had a good time the entire afternoon. You all forgot about social distancing as the evening wore on.
Little did you know that the shopping trolley you used at the supermarket was contaminated with the coronavirus. You had forgotten to use the sanitizer offered by the guard at the entrance.
Six days later, you are not feeling well. You have all the symptoms of COVID-19, except the high fever. On the seventh day, there is little doubt, your temperature is 39°C.
You have difficulty breathing. Because you have health insurance, your wife rushes you to one of the major hospitals in Nairobi. From the moment you turn into the hospital’s driveway, it hits you.
There are more that 20 cars ahead of you, all with their hazard lights on. You notice something else.
Where the main parking used to be, there is a large tent that can accommodate more than 100 beds and all of them are occupied. The hospital has been overrun.
You try three other hospitals before giving up and going back home to do the best you can to deal with your reality.
You are one of more than 5,000 Kenyans who have tested positive for COVID-19. You have nowhere else to turn.
The scenario described above will be real over the next two months if we continue treating the COVID-19 pandemic as casually as many of us are doing.
Being only too aware of this, a group of doctors with extensive experience in public health have come together to play their part in getting Kenyans to take the COVID-19 threat with the seriousness it deserves.
During the inaugural media conference to launch the initiative dubbed Break the Chain on Monday, March 30, 2020, the doctors who are working under the umbrella of an organisation known as Doctors for Healthy Living (DHL), said they are committed to freely giving their time and expertise to forestall a situation where Kenya’s health system will get swarmed.
They are working under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Aluoch, a respiratory disease consultant physician who has practiced medicine for 52 years.
“For the more than five decades I have practiced medicine, I have never come across something like the coronavirus,” he told journalists.
“Most viruses are spread by people who are really sick, but the coronavirus is being spread by people who are even not aware that they are carriers.
“This is why the best protective measures available for everyone is to stay home and to practice very high levels of hygiene by washing hands frequently with soap and using alcohol-based sanitisers where it is not practical to wash hands.”
Renowned cardiologist and internal medicine expert, Dr. Robert Mathenge, who is the founding Chairman of DHL, was equally candid.
“Our health care system cannot handle a runaway COVID-19 pandemic resulting from people’s casual approach now being witnessed. We have come to a situation where only a radicle change in behaviour by all of us will save us. We have to take the measures recommended by the Ministry of Health or many of us and those we love will die,” he cautioned.
Prof. Ruth Nduati, a paediatrician and epidemiologist, who is also one of the volunteer doctors, offered the scientific insight into the coronavirus infection mechanism.
“Washing hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds is all that we need to keep doing consistently, ensuring that every part of the hand is clean and teaching family members, particularly young children, how to do it,” she explained.
“We do not have any cure for this disease. This is why we are advocating for social distancing so that when someone next to you coughs or sneezes, the droplets and aerosols (very small droplets not visible to the naked eye) that come from their mouths and their lungs, cannot reach us. This is why we are emphasizing that people stay at home during this pick period of the infection wave.”
“The truth of the matter is that if COVID-19 spreads the way it is spreading in countries such as Italy, Spain and the United States, we neither have enough hospitals nor enough doctors or equipment to deal with that scale of infection. Our best bet is to stick to the protocols that we are being given by the government.
“We must do what we are being told in order to save ourselves and those that we love,” added Prof Nduati.
The doctors enlisted with DHL have committed themselves to be available to answer any questions related to the coronavirus through traditional and social media.
They seek to support the Government’s efforts to roll back the pandemic and flatten the infection curve.
Anthony Mugo is the Partnership and Programme Manager, Doctors for Healthy Living.
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