Three counties remain coronavirus-free as far as the Ministry of Health is concerned, more than four months since the first case was confirmed in Kenya.
West Pokot, Baringo and Samburu appear to the safe zones but the reality could be different, leaders and experts now warn.
It has emerged that the government has only tested 398 of the 1.5 million residents of the three arid and semi-arid counties.
NEAR NEGLIGIBLE TESTING
The near negligible testing, scientists say, could be the reason for the “zero” cases.
During the daily Covid-19 briefings on Monday, Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman said while the government remains optimistic that the three regions will not record a coronavirus case, the reality is different.
Baringo, with 666,241 residents, has tested 169 people; West Pokot with a 621,241, has tested 115; while Samburu which has 310,327 people has carried out 114 tests.
‘HAND OF GOD’
Religious leaders in Samburu see the “hand of God” in the situation while politicians believe marginalisation has played a huge role in the Covid-19 zero numbers.
Samburu Deputy Governor Julius Leseeto said the few tests may be hiding the true impact and status of Covid-19 in the region.
Mr Leseeto said 114 samples tested are not enough to conclude that the county is coronavirus-free.
“If coronavirus response teams increase testing, chances of recording positive cases will also go up,” the deputy governor said yesterday.
Governor Moses Lenolkulal said the closure of borders would stop the importation of the virus to Samburu.
He raised concerns about the trend of people arriving in Maralal and other local towns from Mombasa, Nairobi and other coronavirus hotspots.
CLOSURE OF BORDERS
Mr Lenolkulal added that his administration is consulting President Uhuru Kenyatta over the closure of borders “since that is a national government function”.
“Samburu must be closed for a while,” the governor said.
West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo said more health workers have been recruited and trained on fighting the deadly virus.
Prof Lonyangapuo added that isolation centres are being set up to contain the disease.
“We have finalised plans to put up an Intensive Care Unit at referral hospital in Kapenguria. Isolation centres will be set up at sub-county level,” he said.
The governor added that his administration has trained more than 400 medical practitioners to deal with the virus.
“Hospitals in Kacheliba, Sigor, Chepareria, Alale, Kabichibich and health centres like Kanyarkwat and Keringet are ready to tackle Covid-19 cases,” Prof Lonyangapuo said.
“Rough terrain remains our main challenge in reaching rural residents to educate them on the dangers of the disease and how to contain it.”
Pastoralism is the main economic activity of West Pokot.
NO SOCIAL DISTANCING
Many residents say they have no access to thermo-guns, face marks and sanitiser.
Most of them do not observe social distancing.
“The literacy rate of West Pokot is perhaps the lowest in the country. Many people are not aware of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health to stop the spread of coronavirus and authorities have done little to sensitise them on anti-Covid-19 directives,” Mr Benjamin Lopuonyang, a Kapenguria resident, said.
Baringo authorities have scaled up preparedness should the region report a Covid-19 case.
Health executive Mary Panga said Mogotio Hospital has been converted to an 80-bed isolation centre.
FOUR ICU BEDS
Kaptimbor Health Centre has 10 beds while Eldama Ravine has eight, she said.
There are four ICU beds at the referral hospital.
“Apart from the isolation wards, we have trained at least 900 health workers on how to handle coronavirus patients. The training of more staff is ongoing,” Ms Panga said.
The executive added that the random tests were carried out in several regions, including informal settlements.
She said the devolved government would ensure 20 more beds are added to the Mogotio Hospital isolation centre.
Ms Panga said the county government is screening travellers at critical entry points.
The border points are Mogotio for travellers arriving from Nakuru county and Oinobmoi for those from Eldoret and Iten.
Report by Oscar Kakai, Geoffrey Ondieki and Florah Koech