Nearly half of the country’s 47 counties are at risk of an Ebola outbreak due to their proximity to Uganda where 23 out of the 36 identified cases have since died.
The government also revealed yesterday that counties along the Northern corridor especially on the Busia Mombasa highway could also be exposed in case of an outbreak of the disease in Kenya.
Health Director General, Dr. Patrick Amoth while issuing an Ebola status update in the country, described these areas as easy hotspots for the disease if it gets imported.
“We are in a new world order, where we have one disease outbreak after another. However, now we have a plan to respond in case of any outbreak,” he said in Nairobi yesterday where the Ministry of Health hosted a multi-agency team.
Some of the counties that are at high risk of exposure include; Busia, Bungoma, Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot, Turkana, Uasin Gishu and Kericho. Mainly, Amoth said these ones are due to their proximity to Uganda.
The others are; Nakuru, Kiambu, Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni, Taita Taveta, Mombasa, and Kwale, because of they are along the northern transport corridor that links the neighnouring Uganda and Kenya’s Coast.
The reason the government is cautioning the public to raise alertness on the zoonotic disease is the fact that the Ebola virus spreads fast and can kill the infected individuals within 6 to 16 days after showing symptoms.
“In Uganda for instance, the fatality rate of the disease has shown to be high at 64 percent,” he said, revealing that as of Monday two more districts in Uganda reported outbreak, and the fatality likely to increase.
However, Amoth said there is no single case of Ebola which has been reported in the country so far.
He was emphatic that to prevent any outbreak or to record success in tackling it, the community is going to play a key role in being alert and reporting any suspected case. “We are better prepared for this borrowing from the lessons we learnt during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we want this to be a community-based response,” he stated.
He said already there is a plan, and the government with support of her partners, is ready to respond if a crisis arises.
“We are now screening all passengers arriving in the country at points of entry. We are also encouraging vigilance at all these areas and the porous border through the Nyumba Kumi initiative.
Amoth revealed that about 18,726 people were screened between September 20 and 25, 2022.
He said the government is not taking any chances with this disease since there is a high risk of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) spread to Kenya owing to the enormous human traffic between Kenya and Uganda through; the Busia and Malaba ground crossing points, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Kisumu, Eldoret and Mombasa international airports.
He revealed there is heavy population of Ugandan citizens in Kenya especially in Nairobi, Kajiado and Kakuma.
“Owing to these risks, Kenya needs to implement effective measures to prevent the EVD outbreak spreading into the country including; stepping up surveillance for detection and preparedness for appropriate response,” he added.
This is even as healthcare workers complained of exclusion from the initial preparedness.
Hosting the first public meeting on the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Uganda, one week ago, the government announced it intends to ride on her experience responding to the Covid-19 pandemic to address this new threat.
With the involvement of several multinational bodies including the UN to form a multi-agency team on the preparedness against the zoonotic disease, the Ministry of Health said it has reactivated all her response systems.
“We are assuring Kenyans that we are equal to the task, and we are going to use the Covid-19 pandemic response, to contain the disease if there’s any outbreak,” said Dr. Francis Kuria, the director, Public Health at the MOH yesterday in Nairobi.
He said all the surveillance systems have been reactivated, and there was no need for fears.
“We have vast experience dealing with such outbreaks. After the Corona pandemic, remember we successfully encountered and addressed the Monkeypox outbreak, and even this one, is manageable,” he stated.
He was emphatic that the team is identifying every gap and mapping specific areas of concern.
“The best response to preventing the disease from getting into the country is through community alertness and surveillance.
“The Ministry also calls on Kenyans to revert to the basic disease transmission prevention protocols of wearing of face masks, washing of hands and observing the 1.5metres distance and avoiding crowded areas,” he said.
However, even as the ministry exuded confidence to deal with the EVD, healthcare workers including doctors and clinical officers poked holes at the government saying such planning strategies don’t work well if all stakeholders are not involved.
Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) and Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) reflected on why in 2016 Sierra Leone recorded the highest fatalities after the disease broke out in the West African country.
“I happened to be involved in Ebola response in Sierra Leone in a few years ago, and it is this kind of fragmentation that saw the fatalities go up unprecedently,” said KUCO Chairman, Peterson Wachira.
He said responding to the health workers plight and remunerating them well and looking at their welfare, will help avert such disease outbreaks in future.