24 June 2017

Kenya: Government in Apparent Attempt to Cover Up Cholera Outbreak

Photo: Jeff Angote/Daily Nation
Weston Hotel in Langata, Nairobi.

Ministry of Health officials are on the spot over what appears to be a deliberate attempt to cover up a cholera outbreak at a hotel linked to Deputy President William Ruto last week.

On Saturday, Director of Medical Services Jack Kioko failed to give a scheduled update on the outbreak, saying he was yet to get "comprehensive" laboratory results on the disease which broke out after guests attending an international health conference were served lunch last week. The conference ended on Friday.

On Saturday morning, Dr Kioko told the Nation that he would give an update "when I get comprehensive lab results including culture today".

But even as Dr Kioko remained cagey about the situation, private hospitals confirmed that 11 out of more than 30 patients who had been rushed to hospitals after taking lunch at the Weston Hotel last week had, indeed, contracted the deadly disease.

Those admitted to various private hospitals complained of severe diarrhoea and vomiting, two of the major symptoms of the disease.

On Saturday, a doctor who is among those admitted at the Nairobi Hospital told the Nation that he is recuperating well and hoped to be discharged today.

But, as he spoke, his colleague lay critically ill after undergoing dialysis.

By Friday, 33 cases of cholera had been confirmed at Nairobi Hospital alone even as the Ministry of Health downplayed the matter, saying it was gastroenteritis and not necessarily the killer disease.

COMMON DISEASE

Prof Gunturu Revathi, a clinical microbiology and infectious diseases specialist at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, defined gastroenteritis as a common food-borne disease.

On Saturday, the hotel's management said it took all measures to ensure the situation was brought under control.

"Jointly with partners, we ensured that the situation was contained and followed procedures as guided by the Ministry of Health as we await their report on possible causes. We wish all the affected delegates quick recovery," Weston Hotel's general manager Michael Nzile said.

Mr Nzile assured all guests that the hotel remains diligent in its operations and confirms that staff and food handlers are certified and continue to operate within the industry's principles.

"Weston Hotel's top priority is the safety of its guests and employees and assures all that its facilities are safe. We are working closely with the Health Department and all partners involved," he said.

ACCUSE MINISTRY

Doctors who attended the health conference at the hotel, mostly those employed by the government, accused Ministry of Health officials of trying to play down the outbreak instead of moving fast to contain it.

They raised fears that the Deputy President's association with the hotel where the disease broke out could have influenced the ministry's public relations approach to the matter, a perfect case of politics and public health clashing, and in the process endangering lives.

On Friday, the chairman of the organising committee of the international conference, Dr Joseph Aluoch, rubbished the Ministry of Health's provisional results that the disease was food poisoning and gastroenteritis.

He also dismissed the government's response, describing it as "political medicine which is bad medicine".

DENY OUTBREAK

However, both Dr Kioko and Bernard Muia, Nairobi's county executive committee member for health, were hesitant to label the cases as cholera and denied that there was an outbreak at the hotel.

Speaking on Friday, Dr Kioko maintained his stand, saying those admitted had suffered food poisoning. He urged the public to wait for the results from the National Public Health Laboratory for confirmation.

A physician from Kisumu who is among those admitted at Nairobi Hospital narrated how he suffered severe stomach pains and diarrhoea soon after taking lunch on Wednesday. Assuming that it was a simple case of food poisoning, he decided to avoid solid food and instead opted to restrict himself to water only.

But his condition worsened rapidly, forcing him to seek medical attention at the hospital, almost certain that he had contracted cholera, a conclusion that was soon confirmed after several tests.

THREE STAFF

Dr Githinji Gitahi, the chief executive officer of Amref Health Africa, confirmed that three of the organisation's staff who had attended the conference at Weston were sick.

The Kenya Medical Association faulted Dr Kioko's stand, questioning how so many tests could all turn out positive yet the government continued downplaying the matter.

On Friday morning, the Nation learnt that a patient in his 50s hospitalised at the Aga Khan University Hospital had tested positive for cholera but was slowly recovering.

Another person who ate at the conference is a British doctor who suffered severe bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting and is said to have flown back home, something that is risky and unrecommended as it puts others in danger. He was said to be receiving treatment in the United Kingdom.

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