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Kenya turns to retired ICU health workers as coronavirus deaths rise to 285

Scientists around the world are building up their knowledge about the coronavirus, as they frantically search for a cure and vaccine.

With the number of Covid-19 deaths reaching 285 on Monday, the country looked to retired intensive care health workers for the support of those in need of round-the-clock medical attention.

In a statement on the country’s statistics, Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe placed Kenya’s Covid-19 caseload at 17,975, saying 440 more people had tested positive for the disease.

CS Kagwe reported the testing of 3,197 samples in 24 hours, raising the total number of tests carried out in the country to 279,612. He also announced 90 more recoveries, which brought the total to 7,833.

The youngest of the new patients was a year old and the oldest 84, while female patients were 154 in number and male patients 286. Kenyans numbered 437 while the rest were foreigners.

Baringo County became the 45th of 47 counties to report a case of the coronavirus, recording its first five patients.

Nairobi accounted for 326, Machakos 32, Kajiado 17, Kiambu 17, Uasin Gishu 13, Mombasa 10 and Murang’a and Kilifi five each.

Busia, Wajir and Nandi had two each while Nyeri, Embu, Taita Taveta and Tharaka-Nithi had one each.

HUGE STRAIN

As the numbers kept rising, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in his 10th address on the pandemic on Monday, instructed the Health ministry to develop a protocol to temporarily keep retired anesthetists and ICU staff in hospitals in their respective counties.

Covid-19 has stretched Kenya’s strained health human resource, which suffers from a chronic shortage of healthcare workers — 10 qualified medical personnel per 10,000 population against the recommended 22: 10,000 — but there are even fewer qualified healthcare workers in intensive care, such as anaesthetists.

The decision to hire retired health workers is not applauded in health circles.

On his Twitter page, Dr Andrew Suleh wrote: “Instead of hiring high-risk retired people, why not first absorb those young health workers who are jobless?”

The age group is also one that would be categorised as vulnerable to Covid-19.

In a study on nurses for neonates (babies under month), researcher Jecinta Nzinga, from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri)-Wellcome Trust noted that while there are around 50,000 nurses registered to practise, fewer than 17,000 offer services in the public sector.

Health Director-General Dr Patrick Amoth said the ICU is one of the most resource-consuming in Covid-19 patient care.

DIFFICULTY BREATHING

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 80 per cent of those with the virus recover without needing any specialist treatment, but an estimated one in six persons become very ill “and develop difficulty breathing”.

SARS-CoV-2 attacks the lungs, but the lack of oxygen does not attack lungs alone. It also damages the kidneys, liver, heart, brain, and other organs.

Severe Covid-19 features pneumonia where the air sacs in the lungs develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is why patients need ventilators in the ICU.

Patients in intensive care need therapy to keep them moving — raising their arms and legs — so that they do not develop muscle atrophy, where they wake up with legs that have “forgotten” to coordinate and walk.

This therapy is a challenge because as SARS-CoV-2 is highly infectious, bringing rehab specialists into patients’ rooms can be problematic.

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