Kenya: Lake Region Leaders Consider Lockdown as Covid-19 Infections Rise

The quiet village of Kajulu in Kisumu East is witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Villagers have buried more than 40 people lost to the respiratory disease.

Residents have complied a list of deaths that occurred between May and June, and there were 46 people on it the day the Nation visited.

Resident Morris Odhiambo was alarmed, saying most of the deaths were attributed to Covid-19 complications.

"For the past two weeks we have buried four church members, some with underlying illnesses."

The sudden deaths have prompted churches in the village to close temporarily as part of efforts to curb the further spread of the virus.

The June 10 county update on Covid-19 by health executive Prof Boaz Nyunya showed that Kisumu Central was the epicenter of the disease, followed by Kisumu East and Kisumu West sub-counties.

Communal infections

Mr Odhiambo appealed to the national government to impose a partial lockdown in Kisumu County in order to control communal infections.

"It is sad that most people take Covid-19 lightly in the village. The rate at which people are dying is alarming," he said.

The villagers spoke as the Lake Region Economic Bloc leadership resolved that a lockdown should be considered.

In a proposal, LREB leaders want limited movement of people while also appreciating the need to maintain economic activities.

This comes as counties in the bloc are leading in communal infections.

The region recorded 1,320 new cases last week, with Kisumu taking the lead with 368 cases, followed closely by Siaya (197) and Busia (196).

Homa Bay registered 167 new cases, Kericho (102), Kisii (100), Migori (44), Bomet (55), Kakamega (47), Vihiga (27) and Nyamira (17).

The region had 122 new infections on Monday, with Kisumu coming second nationally with 47 cases, the Ministry of Health said.

Indian variant's source

In Kajulu, Mr Odhiambo urged the national government to investigate the source of the Indian variant of the virus in Kisumu.

"The government should check properly the Kinks area. We know that the Indian variant was detected among the foreigners. Our people could have mingled with them, thus the increasing deaths in this area," he said.

Former Kisumu East MP Gor Sungu asked the national and county governments to invest in civic education.

"Our people are not taking this disease seriously. It is sad that politicians are fueling the spread with political rallies," he said.

He went on: "In the Madaraka Day celebrations the protocols were broken, the political leaders came out of their car at Kondele, which encouraged the crowds."

In a statement, LREB chairman Wycliffe Oparanya said enforcement of Covid-19 protocols should be enforced to the letter.

"There is a need to provide enough resources such as oxygen, human resources for health, testing kits, pulse oxymeters, vaccines and PPE," he said.

He proposed that an online integrated data platform should be established for coordination, based on science and leveraging technology.

"We should have an online situation room that provides real-time information on resources availability, staffing, functional ICU, bed space, oxygen (preferably available through dashboards for the governors of the LREB) in public and private facilities," he said.

He raised concerns over the financial challenges in counties, urging the National Treasury to fast-track cash flow to counties.

The porous international borders in Busia and Migori could be increasing Covid-19 cases in the region, with Uganda seeing an upsurge in infections.

Read: Another Covid peak expected in July as India variant cases rise

Also read: Three of the four known Covid-19 variants are in Kenya, say researchers

Strike threat

LREB spoke as doctors and nurses in Kisumu threatened to stop working if the county government failed to provide them with masks, PPE and health insurance.

Amid the surge in infections, private and public facilities in the region have reported a shortage of oxygen.

County health facilities depend on a BOG Gas plant for the supply of liquid oxygen to save the lives of patients in critical condition.

In addition, frontline health workers managing Covid-19 infections are overstretched.

Health officials at Jaramogi Hospital said two nurses are usually deployed to handle 34 Covid-19 patients.

The Nyanza region chairman of the doctor's union KMPDU, Dr Onyango Ndong'a, said that while the county government had provided isolation units, the shortage of nurses and doctors was hurting services.

Read: Kenya records 456 new Covid cases, positivity rate of 8.1pc

Only ten doctors are assigned to the Covid-19 isolation centres across public hospitals in Kisumu County, he said.

"The work force is overstretched mentally, physically and psychologically. Sadly, half of the doctors have contracted Covid-19," he said, adding that doctors are working under difficult conditions without health insurance.

Health workers have to dig into their own pockets to buy face masks and gloves to protect themselves from infections, he said.

"Right now we are covering for inadequacies. We are buying face masks and gloves because sometimes they are not there."

He added: "Health workers are getting Covid-19. Some cannot afford treatment. All county governments must provide health insurance for the health workers."

He proposed that the county government add 10 more doctors to handle isolation centres.

"The mental health of our workers is wanting. Right now all the isolation units are full yet with limited human resources," he said.

Kisumu County has lost four doctors to Covid-19 since March this year. The surge in Covid-19 cases in the county has been attributed to non-adherence to measures such handwashing, sanitising and keeping social distance.

Patients turned away

In neighboring Vihiga County, health authorities are turning away people who are due for the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine after the 15,000 doses they had were exhausted, with no word on when the second consignment will be delivered.

The decision has shaken thousands of people who received the first jab.

Many who visited the county referral hospital in Mbale and sub-county hospitals in Sabatia, Hamisi and Emuhaya on Monday were shocked to learn that the doses were not available.

By Tuesday, it remained unclear when the county will resume the vital vaccinations aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

Health executive Dr Amos Kutwa confirmed the crisis without providing information on when the jabs will resume.

"Yes, we suspended giving the second dose until we get supplies from Kemsa," Dr Kutwa said in a text message.

On June 7, Dr Kutwa had indicated that the county expected to receive a second consignment from Kemsa and exuded confidence that "we are well covered".

Amid the vaccine shortage, Dr Kutwa said community transmission in Vihiga was on the rise, pushing the case load to 376.

There are 35 new cases, eight in isolation care at the county referral hospital and 27 others in home-based care.

"We border Kisumu, Siaya and Kakamega where cases are on the rise, making us vulnerable. June has seen a spike in the cases. We are calling on our people to exercise caution and observe the health protocols," he said.

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