, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 16 – Principal Secretary for Health Khalifa Kasachoon on Tuesday said Kenya would not accede to the African Union request that it lifts its temporary suspension of flights to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Kasachoon explained that such a decision would be taken on a case-by-case basis and would be pegged on the containment of the outbreak in each of the countries.
“We have a protocol on how to lift the ban and it is a health protocol. Once we’re satisfied that it is okay to lift it then we will do it. For now, we have not done so,” she said.
Director of Medical Services Nicholas Muraguri said Kenya was free to make up its own mind regarding the suspended flights and as the virus spread to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal, further tighten its borders.
“So far we are not convinced that the risk level has lowered and therefore the ban stays. When the appropriate time comes, we either reduce the number of countries with travel bans or even extend beyond the initial three countries,” he said.
Kenya’s position, he said, was not the exception as other African countries were maintaining their suspension of flights to and from the affected countries in West Africa.
“Kenya is monitoring the situation in the six affected countries and reviewing its options on a weekly basis,” he explained.
World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Advisor Benido Impouma argued that the temporary ban on passengers from West Africa – with the exception of Kenyans, foreigners based out of Kenya and students – was not necessary if the surveillance at Kenya’s 31 ports of entry was high.
Muraguri also admitted that it was possible for passengers from West Africa to, “short circuit,” through other countries in order to enter Kenya if they were so determined.
“We had a WHO staffer who was sick and entered Kenya from Sierra Leone through Tanzania,” he gave as an example.
So far, Impouma said, only Ethiopia and Algeria were the unaffected African countries sufficiently prepared to manage Ebola should it be imported into their borders.
Muraguri, Impouma and Kasachoon were speaking at a Regional High Level Multi-Sectoral Meeting on Emergency Preparedness and Response to (the) Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak.
A meeting called, Transport Principal Secretary Nduva Muli said, for the formulation and adoption of a joint regional action plan against Ebola.
Especially given the high traffic between Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia, Kasachoon said.
And given the limited number of Ebola testing facilities, Muraguri and Impouma agreed, it would be important to establish protocols on the transportation of samples taken from suspected Ebola cases.
“We don’t want samples getting stuck at the airport. The transportation of the samples has to be carefully managed as it exposes more people to the virus,” he said.
Tanzania for example, Muraguri said, did not have the capacity to test for Ebola and were therefore relying on Kenya for laboratory services.
Ignorance regarding how Ebola is spread, economic constraints and a limited number of health workers equipped to manage the outbreak, Impouma said, were the biggest challenges the region is facing.
“We’ve heard cases of health workers fleeing once there is a confirmed case of Ebola in their facility. We recommend your doctors get field experience,” he said. “And the reason 150 health workers have died from the virus in the past six months is because they were not properly equipped.”
Since the Ebola outbreak began in December 2013, 2,500 people have died.
The regional meeting on Ebola continues on Wednesday led by Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia.