, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 13 – The Ministry of Health, Kenya Airways and the Kenya Airports Authority have assured the public that all the necessary precautions are being undertaken to guard against spread of the Ebola virus after the World Health Organisation classified Kenya as being at high risk of transmission.
Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said his ministry “is taking the Ebola threat extremely seriously,” as is President Uhuru Kenyatta who has demanded regular updates on Kenya’s preparedness.
“Last night we did receive his Excellency the President and the first thing we had to brief him was about the status of Ebola and he told me that soon after this briefing I have to go back to State House to give him more details,” Macharia said.
Among the measures the ministry is taking is increasing the number of isolation facilities prepared for a possible Ebola outbreak from one, at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), to at least six at all major points of entry: Mombasa, Busia, Kajiado and Uasin Gishu.
Mbagathi District Hospital, Macharia said, is also being prepared with the Director of Medical Services Nicholas Muraguri adding that the bed capacity of the KNH isolation ward would be expanded from 20 to 100 by Friday.
Muraguri said screening efforts of passengers coming from West Africa at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) would also be expanded to transiting passengers. “They might be flying on to other destinations but they interact with our immigration officers and other passengers so it’s important to screen them as well,” he said.
Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director Lucy Mbugua said passengers arriving from West Africa had also been allocated special gates but said passengers who had been to West Africa but did not fly directly to Kenya posed a challenge.
“That is the problem because you will not be able to know. If a passenger goes to Europe and then comes to Nairobi you’ll not be able to know because we’re not screening European passengers, the same with South Africa,” she said.
But even in cases of passengers flying directly to Kenya from West Africa, Muraguri acknowledged, there had been lapses, “and I really want to thank passengers who may have identified some lapses.”
Macharia and incoming Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Mbuvi Ngunze however said the situation had not gotten so dire to warrant the suspension of flights to and from West Africa, with Macharia saying they would review that decision once and if Kenya got a confirmed case of Ebola.
But he did acknowledge that the, “heavy human traffic,” from West Africa put Kenya, as the WHO had analysed, at a high risk:
“Kenya receives more than 76 flights from the affected countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Guinea) every week mainly operated by Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and Rwanda Air and I believe that’s why WHO said we are actually indeed very vulnerable,” Macharia said.