Kenya: Nearly Half the Population May Have Had Covid - Study

1 October 2020

As life returns to normal, albeit gingerly, scientists say nearly half the Kenyan population may have had Covid-19.

A study by Kenyan and United Kingdom scientists shows the pandemic may have peaked before the end of July in major urban counties, "with 34 - 41 per cent of residents infected" and that it will peak elsewhere in "two to three months".

"The reason for this apparently low level of Covid-19 disease in Kenya is unknown, and non-reporting is a potential explanation," states the report.

The Ministry of Health last week said the curve had flattened, prompting President Uhuru Kenyatta to partially reopen the economy on Monday.

Cases have dropped in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Kajiado and Machakos counties against expectations.

An epidemiologist has attributed this to low testing rates and a predominance of asymptomatic and mild cases.

"We expected worse than what we have seen, but the government acted fast and controlled the spread by locking down the country and instituting containment measures," Dr Ambrose Agweyu, the Head of Epidemiology and Demography at the Kemri-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, told the Nation.

He, however, warned that the relaxation of containment measures could lead to a spike, especially due to increased movements and interactions. "Things may change when you consider that we have at least 40 counties at different stages of the pandemic. Each county has at least one case," he said.

Testing strategy changed

MoH changed its testing strategy --given that 93 per cent of all positive cases are asymptomatic -- targeting only symptomatic patients. This is due to challenges in getting testing reagents and supplies.

"Given that most cases in the country are asymptomatic or mild, there could be a silent spike of the disease. The lack of symptoms could make it spread silently," said Dr Agweyu.

Contact tracing is also a huge challenge, especially in the context of established community transmission. "There is need for surveillance in rural counties to be able to detect where they are, so that targeted response may be taken," he added.

Dr Benard Muia, a public health expert, also said the low numbers in rural counties are due to low testing rates and slow contact tracing.

"Laboratory-based diagnostics is not being adequately done, if it could, it would be easy to know the disease prevalence in those specific areas. There is no adequate contact tracing, therefore we cannot say the curve is flattening," he said.

Most counties continue to record less than 10 cases every day.

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