KISUMU, Kenya – Health officials watch a state of disaster in Kisumu on Lake Victoria, before Kenya’s president and other leaders arrive for a major public holiday in late May. Coronavirus infections were on the rise, hospital isolation units were filling up and the highly infectious Delta variant was detected in Kisumu County – the first in Kenya.
County Executive for Health and Sanitation Dr. Boaz Otieno Nunya said he and other health experts argued and urged politicians to organize a virtual celebration and skip mass, individual events that could supercharge an outbreak. Just a few weeks ago, huge political rallies helped fuel the devastating Covid-19 wave in India, where the delta variant first emerged and became prominent.
Health officials said their objections were brushed off. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Vice President William Ruto, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and others landed on Kisumu, big drawing and mostly masked crowd who throng the streets to see them slow bikes through the city and gathered to hear them at market places and parking lots.
In the weeks that followed, all reports showed an alarming increase in infections and deaths in a county of just over 1.1 million people, with the virus sickening mostly young people. Dr Patrick Amoth, Acting Director General of Kenya’s Ministry of Health, said the delta variant was growing rapidly.
With medical supplies running out, vaccine shortages, doctors lament over physical and mental fatigue and hospitals removing patients Lacking bedding or oxygen, health officials say they fear a wave that hit India in April and May could hit Kisumu.
Dr. Nyunya said, “India’s example is not lost to us.”
Although the figures for infections and deaths are spotty, more than 23 percent of people who tested positive for the virus in Kisumu last week were more than double the national rate. Kenya’s overall positivity rate is similar to that of the United States when the pandemic peaked in January. But the delta version was rare even then, the US health system is far more robust than in Kenya and the US government was ramping up vaccinations.
The whole of Africa is vulnerable, as the latest wave of the pandemic spreads across the continent, driven by more permeable forms. Less than 1 percent of Africans have been partially vaccinated, the lowest rate for any continent.
“I think the biggest risk in Africa is to look at what happened before in Italy and what happened in India and start thinking we’re safe – to say it’s too far from us and we’re not the same way can go,” he said. Dr Mark Nanningi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Liverpool in the UK. He called the surge in western Kenya a “storm on the horizon”.
The World Health Organisation, based on available data from nearly 40 countries, showed a nearly 15 percent increase in COVID-related deaths in Africa over the past week. said. But experts say the true scale of the pandemic is much higher than those reported in Africa, where Testing and tracing remains a challenge for many countries, and many nations do not collect mortality data.
To contain the ongoing crisis, Kenya’s health ministry last week banned gatherings and extended curfews in Kisumu and more than a dozen surrounding counties from dusk to dawn. But the measures were too late for Dr. Nyunya, who said to look back on the deliberations – Including County Governor Peter Anyang ‘Nyong’o, a former national health minister – at the ceremony last month said, “It makes you feel impotent.”
In Uganda, which borders Kenya near Kisumu and has announced record cases and deaths, President Yoweri Museveni has imposed a strict 42-day lockdown. Just a few weeks ago, Rwanda hosted the Basketball Africa League and other big sporting events, raising the prospect of a full reopening. But after the spike in cases, the government Introduced new lockdown measures on Monday.
The Democratic Republic of Congo – where the virus has claimed the lives of more than 5 percent of lawmakers – is battling a third wave as it falters in finding vaccines. South Africa, the continent’s worst-hit country, has reported a doubling of new infections in just two weeks’ time, with the sharpest increase in major urban centres. Tunisia, where hospitals are full and oxygen supplies are scarce, is facing a fourth wave.
A senior health scholar at the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown University, Dr. “The new, highly transmissible variants create a precarious situation in many countries with weak health systems,” said Ngozi Erondu.
WHO blames the lack of vaccination in Africa, wearing of masks and social distancing and inadequate adherence to precautionary measures such as delta and other forms.
In Kisumu, health officials first detected the delta variant in factory workers who arrived from India in early May. Since then, it has spread to neighboring countries, with doctors saying patients were presenting more severe symptoms than earlier in the pandemic.
The surge in infections has pulled up both public and private hospitals, with many saying they have turned patients away or referred them to hospitals as far away as Nairobi, the capital, which is more than 220 miles away. .
The private Aga Khan Hospital in Kisumu usually saw two or three Covid patients at a time earlier this year. But during a recent visit, the hospital had 18 such patients, out of which only 12 beds were specifically designated for the treatment of COVID.
Kisumu County Hospital had only one bed available out of 13 in its isolation unit, said Salome Situma, a nurse who oversees the Covid-19 unit. He said the hospital does not have piped oxygen and all five portable cylinders are in use.
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital, the region’s premier public hospital, has 130 isolation beds but has been inundated with referrals from neighboring counties, according to its chief executive officer, George Rai. At times, Dr Rai said, he felt “encircled” and worried that increasing demands could deplete oxygen stores.
“If Kisumu represents the African situation,” he said, “then Kisumu needs a national plan to deal with this virus, to get everyone vaccinated, for everyone to gain the knowledge to prevent it. To get everyone with a mask on, and everyone away from the crowd.”
In Kisumu, the human toll of the virus is cutting across all sections of society.
Musa Ismail, president of the Kisumu Muslim Association, said the Muslim community used to bury two to three people a day several times in recent weeks, where they bury just one every few months. Zablon Avange, executive secretary of the county teachers’ union, said it had buried several teachers in recent weeks. Sally Okudo, a member of the county assembly, said the number of sudden deaths among her constituents had risen.
Dr Patrick Ashwani of the Aga Khan Hospital said there had been at least one death in a day at the hospital in early June. “Things were very bad,” he said with a sigh.
Dr. Nyunya of the Department of Health said that in rural parts of the county, there has been an increase in deaths without any reason, indicating that the number of Kovid is much higher than the official number.
Health care workers in public facilities say many of them are becoming infected, even as they await their second vaccine dose and lament the lack of protective gear and health insurance.
“We are buying our own gloves and masks,” said the president of the local chapter of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, Dr. Onyango Ndonga said. “We are covering for government inadequacies. We are tired now. We’re pulled.”
For now, families who have lost loved ones are adjusting to a new reality.
Edward Onditi, 33, lost both his brother and mother to Covid-19 this month. He said that he left Nairobi to help his family after his brother Herbert, whom he considered his best friend and mentor, fell ill.
For weeks, the family moved Herbert, 43, between three hospitals in the two counties—70 miles in total—so that he could get high-flow oxygen. The day before Herbert’s death, Edward delivered fish, his brother’s favorite food, to his isolation ward and promised to take him on leave after he left.
“I am very impressed,” his brother said in a text message sent on June 2.
Barely 12 hours later, he was gone.
A few days later, his mother, Naomi, who was ill, also succumbed to complications from COVID-19.
“This is one of the most difficult moments of my life,” said Mr. Onditi on a recent afternoon, tears welling up from his eyes. “Things just aren’t working out. They are not adding up. “