18 July 2017

Kenya: Cholera Claims More Lives in Nairobi Amid Shortage of Staff

Photo: Jeff Angote/The Nation
Road users navigate through sewage on Ojijo Road in Westlands, Nairobi, on July 17, 2017.

Your regular bite of fruit could lead to a cholera infection, doctors warned on Monday, barely 24 hours after two patients died of the disease at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).

At least 50 people were admitted in ward 1F, most of them from diverse parts of Nairobi County.

"We have patients from Kileleshwa, Githurai, Kawangware, Pipeline, Mukuru kwa Njenga and Embakasi South," said a nurse at the hospital's emergency wing, which is now awash with patients suffering from cholera.

With patients drawn from all over Nairobi, there seems to be no safe place as the cases are sporadic and not concentrated in one place.


And although the hospital said there were no cases of sick healthcare providers, it was battling with a shortage of staff.

"Nurses, just like other people, are scared of cholera so much that they have refused to be booked for locums," said a source at the referral facility.

"I usually have too many nurses asking for locums that I do not know who to give and who to turn down.

"Now we are literally begging them to come."

In healthcare lingo, locum means holding a temporary position as a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant.


But even as more patients are taken to the hospital, the beds are not enough.

"When I requested for beds and more isolation room, I was told that we will cross the bridge when we get there," added the source.

On July 14, top government officers, including National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, his Trade colleague Adan Mohammed and Trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo as well as several staff from the two ministries were treated for cholera-related symptoms. This was after they ate food at a trade event at KICC.

So bad is the situation in Nairobi that the Ministry of Health yesterday cancelled medical certificates of all food handlers as it directed county health units to inspect all eateries in 21 days.


In a raft of measures to contain the epidemic, the Director of Medical Services, Dr Jackson Kioko, also appointed a task force and tasked it to stop the spread of the disease.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated. It takes between 12 hours and five days for a person to show symptoms after ingesting contaminated food or water.

Researchers have estimated that, every year, there are 1.3 million to 4 million cases of cholera, which cause 21,000 to 143,000 deaths.

With the ever-rising cases, Kenyans have been advised to boil drinking water and wash their hands after going to the toilet and before they eat.

"We do not know if the contamination is in the water or in the food; therefore, we are calling for extra caution," added the nurse. "As for health providers, we insist on adherence to personal protective equipment."

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