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February 26, 2020 - 09:37
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Kenyan hospitals lack capacity to fight outbreaks

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Kenyan hospitals lack capacity to fight outbreaks

A section of Kenyatta National Hospital
A section of Kenyatta National Hospital. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Only four percent of health facilities in Kenya have disease outbreak preparedness plans, a new survey by the Health ministry has revealed, underscoring just how ill-prepared the country is to handle an epidemic.

The Kenya Harmonised Health Facility Assessment report for 2018/19 indicates that only five percent of public health centres are prepared for disease outbreaks while both dispensaries and medical clinics fared worse at two percent each.

The report also stated that only 11 percent of the country’s public primary hospitals and care facilities have health response plans for outbreaks, natural disasters and other emergencies. Health centres, dispensaries, clinics and primary health care hospitals are easily accessible and therefore the first point of care for the sick and, by extension, the first point of call in the event of an epidemic.

Outbreak preparedness was more available at secondary and tertiary hospitals, mainly referral hospitals at 45 percent and 32 percent for private hospitals. Overall, government-run institutions were the worst prepared at two percent, followed by private at five percent. Non-government facilities faired much better at nine percent.

The study found that a bigger percentage of public health facilities had failed to meet international health regulations (IHRs) whose core elements are strong surveillance, laboratory, workforce and strategic information systems. WHO, in its 2019 World at Risk report, says that lack of continued political will at all levels, weak compliance with the IHR and inadequate international support for preparedness in the poorest countries remained the greatest persistent challenges.

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“The survey findings on outbreak preparedness plans nationally as well as by facility type and by managing authority (government/non-governmental) show overall dismal performance,” the KHHFA survey said.

The findings come in the wake of a rapidly spreading pandemic of novel coronavirus, which had by yesterday claimed over 360 lives and infected over 17,000 people across the globe. The virus, whose origin is China, has once again put to test the level of outbreaks preparedness across the globe and especially for Kenya, a country that still lacks the capacity to carry-out tests authoritatively. Kenya is currently using laboratories outside the country to carry-out tests for coronavirus.

WHO is set to supply the country with the reagent kits in the coming days. In its 2019 report, the UN agency said global epidemics are growing and the world remains unprepared for a fast-moving virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic. Beginning 2011 to 2018, WHO has tracked 1,483 epidemic events such as influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola, Zika, plague and yellow fever in 172 countries across the globe.

The pandemics, in addition to causing high levels of mortality, are capable of causing panic, destabilising national security, negatively impacting tourism while having a serious impact on the global economy as well as cross-border trade.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus yesterday urged countries across the globe to increase vigilance levels by investing more in preparedness. He said the organisation is working with partners to develop vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

“For too long, the world has operated on a cycle of panic and neglect. We throw money at an outbreak, and when it’s over, we forget about it and do nothing to prevent the next one,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.

“Both the 2019nCoV and Ebola outbreaks underscore once again the vital importance for all countries to invest in preparedness, not panic…We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take.”

The World at Risk report recommended that heads of government appoint high-level co-ordinators with authority and political accountability to lead and routinely test if the systems are working.

It also recommended that community involvement be prioritised and multiple stakeholders involved to enhance preparedness.

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