By ZUBEIR ATHMAN
The continued rise in coronavirus cases in Lamu County should serve as a wakeup call to the region which has for years been experiencing poor health infrastructure.
Locals in the area have since time immemorial been relying on referrals to other counties of Kilifi, Mombasa and Nairobi when common diseases and emergencies arise.
While some counties like Machakos have been investing in their health systems, leveraging their capacity to handle coronavirus patients, including turning the local stadium into Covid-19 isolation facility, Lamu has not done much except the provision of 100,000 free homemade face masks, hand washing and sanitizers to the public in early May.
This week, the county administration also procured Sh3.9 million personal protective equipment (PPEs) to help aid the fight against coronavirus in the region. The county should however pull up socks in as far as Covid-19 preparedness is concerned.
NO FUNCTIONAL ICU
For instance, with a county like Nairobi having over 200 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and Mombasa having over 30 of such beds, Lamu has no single functional ICU, a situation which is putting Covid-19 patients at risk.
The county has a total of 143,920 people as per the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census but currently; only three Covid-19 isolation centres have so far been identified to help accommodate coronavirus patients.
They include Lamu King Fahad County Hospital isolation facility and two other facilities in Mpeketoni and Faza Sub-County hospitals. The Lamu King Fahad’s isolation centre is the largest with a 22-bed capacity.
A spot check has, however, revealed that almost all the isolation centres for Covid-19 patients in the region lack crucial facilities, including basic resuscitation equipment, ICU facilities and other crucial equipment required to effectively tackle the pandemic.
Most of the said isolation facilities are nothing but large rooms portioned into cubicles and the only thing that such rooms can do is to receive and quarantine suspects of Covid-19 disease but not treating them.
The only tangible gears found within the facility included face masks and the gowns to be used by doctors handling the patients. Others included the simple hand washing and hand sanitizers.
There is also the lack of critical health care staff in addition to the lack of health infrastructure in most rural areas, including Boni forest where all the five dispensaries were closed down since 2014 owing to Al-Shabaab attacks.
Residents interviewed expressed concern over the level of preparedness on the part of the County government in dealing with Covid-19.
“The health workers here are not enough. We don’t have specialists, nurses, respiratory therapists and other medics that have the capacity to handle Covid-19 cases. Something needs to be done urgently,” says one of them Hassan Chonda.
In mid-April this year, the County Assembly of Lamu passed a Sh157 million Supplementary Budget to help combat Covid-19 pandemic in the region.
Residents, however, feel that the money has not been put to proper use since nothing tangible has been done to portray the same.
Ahmed Nizar says there is need for improved healthcare facilities in the region, especially this time when the county has already recorded cases of coronavirus.
He wants Covid-19 mass community testing to be launched across the County to ascertain the exact number of those suffering from the disease.
“Let there be active response measures now that Covid-19 has spread to Lamu,” he says.
Contacted, Lamu Governor Fahim Twaha says they are waiting for proper approval from the Assembly in order to set up an 86-bed facility for Covid-19 patients in the region in the near future.
In June this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered counties to have at least 300-bed isolation centres in readiness to deal with the surging number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
But the governor says only an 86-bed facility is enough for the region.
“We only need 86 beds according to the modeling. We’re awaiting proper approval from the assembly. We’ll be using existing facilities. Our expenditure will be on beds,” he adds.
The County so far has four key public hospitals, 34 dispensaries and several health centres most of which lack basic drugs to treat common ailments.
So far, the County has tested 442 individuals, with 28 individuals testing positive.
Out of which, 12 are negative; one has succumbed to the virus and 15 remain active cases, under home-based care.