Fear as cholera outbreak reported in western Kenya

Thursday September 26 2019

A nurse attends to a cholera patient at a hospital in Kisumu, western Kenya, last year.

A nurse attends to a cholera patient at a hospital in Kisumu, western Kenya, last year. Two people have died of suspected dysentery in Kajulu, Kisumu County. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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By NATION TEAM
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Fear has gripped Kisumu County, in western Kenya, over possible spread of cholera due to the ongoing health workers’ strike after an outbreak was confirmed in the county.

The tests on samples taken from some patients at Gita Sub-County Hospital in Kisumu East to Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) turned out positive on Wednesday.

"We are working with public health department to sensitise the community and give the water treatment kits to villagers living along rivers," said Kisumu County Director of Health Dickens Onyango.

PATIENT DIED

Kisumu County government has confirmed that one patient died of cholera. However, there are fears that the toll could be higher.

“On September 23, 28 persons exhibiting cholera-like symptoms were received at Gita Hospital and examined. Twenty-four people were treated and discharged, while four were admitted for further management,” read a statement by County government spokesperson Aloice Ager.

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Dr Onyango cautioned residents living along River Awach in Kisumu East to avoid drinking water from the river.   

The Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o-led administration has, however, been criticised over the spread of the disease for its failure to end the month-long medics’ strike.

WORKERS' PLIGHT

Kisumu City Residents Voice chairman Audi Ogada accused Prof Nyong’o of not addressing the health workers’ plight.

“Why is it that only Kisumu cannot pay its medics? We urge the governor to slash other department’s budgets to pay the nurses and ensure they get back to work,” he said.

“Life is precious and we should not pretend to be implementing other development projects while people are dying,” he added.

He said that it was unfortunate that Kisumu, where President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga launched the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) pilot project on December 13, 2018, is not benefiting from the ambitious programme due to rampant strikes.

The launch at the Mamboleo showground was expected to herald the transformation of country’s health sector.  

Kisumu still continues to grapple with numerous challenges in the health sector. Occasional strikes by doctors and nurses over pay continues to threaten the success of this ambitious programme.

For four weeks now, medics in the Lakeside county have boycotted work.

The public health facilities in the county have been deserted as patients were discharged prematurely.  

A spot check at Chulaimbo County Hospital in Kisumu West, Ojola Health Centre, Kisumu County Hospital, Lumumba Health Centre and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) gave a damning revelation.

Nothing was taking place on Wednesday and Thursday morning.

PATIENTS DYING

Apart from the cholera patients, four other people have been reported dead following the ongoing health workers’ strike that has paralysed operations in 132 health facilities.

A senior officer at JOOTRH on Wednesday told the Nation that many patients could be dying at home because they cannot afford services in private hospitals.

“People are suffering and since they no longer visit the public hospitals, they could be dying at home,” the official said.

A patient died last week after being turned away from JOOTRH following the medics’ strike.

The patient, who had knife wounds from an attack by unknown assailants, was rushed to Avenue Hospital, a private facility by Good Samaritans before being referred to JOOTRH.

According to Avenue Hospital, Mr Dan Ouma needed a quick admission and blood transfusion but the facility was full to capacity and did not have his blood type.

PATIENT REFERRED

“He was bleeding profusely and we managed to stabilise his situation. However, he needed quick admission and we referred him to JOOTRH. Mr Ouma also needed blood transfusion but we did not have blood group O+,” said Dr Dennis Ogola, the in charge of Avenue Hospital.

Dr Ogola said the patient had to be rushed 62kms away to Kakamega Referral Hospital for transfusion since Mbale Hospital in Vihiga also lacked this blood group.

The JOOTRH CEO Peter Okoth however denied claims of turning away the patient. He said the patient was referred out of Kisumu County. Three kidney patients, who were on dialysis at JOOTRH, also died after leaving the hospital.

The Kenya National Union of Nurses’ (Knun) Kisumu branch secretary Maurice Opetu told the Nation that nurses had not been paid salaries for five months.

NO SALARIES

“Those nurses on contract have not been paid salaries for five months. Those who are in regular employment haven’t received their dues for three months,” Mr Opetu said.

“Our loans have not serviced for five months. NHIF has not been remitted so the nurses cannot access medical services for themselves. Other statutory deductions like PAYE and other insurance policies have not been remitted for the last five months and the whole scenario paints a bleak future for us.”

Mr Opetu revealed that they were unable to apply and receive even Sh10,000 loans from banks.

“Some banks have even issued nurses with demand letters to service their loans of face prosecution. The governor and other county leadership must come up with a better working formula to ensure all staff are treated equally.”

Despite their pleas, Prof Nyong’o has continued to term their strike as “insensitive and uncalled for.”

AMICABLE SOLUTION

“It is immoral for nurses to go on strike. Why are they impatient. Was it too much for them to wait a while longer for us to sort the division of revenue which was done last week,” the governor said.

But his administration has been accused of focusing on unimportant issues rather than the delicate health docket.

On Wednesday, nurses were expecting to meet the governor for a possible way forward but the meeting never took place as the county chief was holed up in a political meeting with ODM leader Raila Odinga and a section of Kisumu MCAs.

They met Mr Odinga in a bid to find an amicable solution to the political turmoil at the assembly following speaker Onyango Oloo’s impeachment.

Reports by Justus Ochieng’, Elizabeth Ojina and Donna Atola.