NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 8 – They sat by passively in a hotel conference room as they awaited the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs; the Cabinet Secretary for Health having arrived on time.
When she, Amina Mohamed, arrived and walked into the room in the company of her health counterpart James Macharia, they erupted into applause.
But when the Cabinet Secretaries stood to speak, they said they felt undeserving of the applause given they were in a room full of what they described as “heroes.”
Men and women who would risk their lives on the Ebola battle front; more specifically Liberia and Sierra Leone which are hardest hit.
“I never thought we’d get anyone to apply. Let alone have the room be too small for those who did,” Macharia marvelled.
A total of 700 Kenyans responded to the Ministry of Health advertisement for health workers willing to be deployed to West Africa to assist in the African Union’s efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak there.
In this room sat the 170 who would go in first; booked onto two chartered planes from Kenya Airways and scheduled to depart on Friday morning but not before receiving a send off from none other than President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We’re supposed to meet the President briefly at 9.30 am but we’re meant to be there by 8.30am. After that it’s straight to the airport,” Macharia detailed.
The African Union Director of Social Affairs Olawale Maiyegun expressed hope that all 170 in the room would also be on the tarmac come the time for departure.
“In my experience things come up and not all who were pledged actually arrive at the destination,” he said.
But Stephen Kariuki, a clinician, told Capital FM News that they did not have second thoughts.
“I just got married three months ago but I felt that I had something to give humanity and so I told my wife I’d be back. But if they need me for a year I’m ready,” Kariuki said.
The health workers who comprise doctors, nurses, clinicians, technicians and morgue attendants are meant to spend a total of 18 weeks where they’re posted.
“They will undergo two weeks of training then they’ll work six weeks, take an in country break of a week, do another six weeks before being placed under observation for three weeks. We don’t intend to keep them for too long because it’s stressful,” Maiyegun explained.
The second, “battalion,” according to Macharia, of the over 300 health workers Kenya has pledged, should be deployed, Maiyegun said, after 15 weeks of the first deployment.