By Peter Wafula Murumba
The novel Coronavirus disease or COVID 19 is now at our doorsteps. Thirty one people in Kenya had tested positive for COVID 19 by Thursday, on the day the government announced that one, 66-year-old man had succumbed.. Over 300,000 people worldwide have been infected and over 20,000 dead as of March 26.
The existential threat of COVID 19 to humanity is real. In the end, no nation will be spared the vagaries of the pandemic and its destabilizing impact on the global political, economic and social order. Kenya is no exception. Tough measures are underway to instill a radical change in social behavior. These must be enforced to the hilt and sustained in the foreseeable future until the menace is fully contained.
The government is to be commended for enforcing stringent public health measures designed to curb the potential escalation of COVID 19 within our borders. The directives are mainly intended to limit person-to-person interactions, seen as a powerful catalyst of COVID transmission.
Additionally, travel restrictions including a lockdown of the country’s airspace are already in effect, with travelers into the country now undergoing a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.
But even as these measures are implemented, many Kenyans are yet to take the threat posed by COVID 19 seriously. Social distancing remains complacent as evidenced by crowding in some public spaces. Worse, some people continue to defy government directives on self-quarantine even when suspected of harboring the deadly virus.
For example, a local Catholic priest returned recently from Italy – currently the deadliest hot spot of the pandemic – and interacted with hundreds of mourners at a burial in western Kenya. A deputy governor attended public gatherings knowing very well he was a high-risk person having recently arrived from Europe. Like the priest, he has since tested positive for COVID 19.
Such reckless behavior is seriously endangering live and if not checked will likely trigger an explosion of the disease in the country. Only God knows how many Kenyans are infected after coming into contact with persons carrying the infectious pathogen.
This is why we must all religiously adhere to social distancing and other precautions in order to arrest the disease before it consumes us. Those who fail to obey public health directives should be made to suffer the full wrath of the law regardless of their social status. COVID is a deadly disease that does not respect persons or borders.
Tracking of those who may have come into contact with infected persons must be ruthlessly enforced to minimize the risk of community spread, identified as the next wave of the pandemic. All persons must stay indoors except for essential movement which again should be kept to a minimum to prevent further spread of the virus.
However, much as the prognosis of the pandemic may be bleak and unpredictable, it is notable that Kenya has scored some positive milestones that catapult her to the forefront of the global fight against coronavirus. Some of the milestones have immediate benefit to Kenyans and the world while others will significantly boost the country’s ability to tackle deadly diseases like coronavirus in the long term.
First, Kenya was recently chosen by the World Health Organisation and the African Union to host the African Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) effectively transforming the country into a future regional hub of medical research and disease control. This will not only strengthen Kenya’s capacity to combat pandemics like COVID but also benefit from transfer of knowledge in medical research and disease prevention and eradication.
Second, and in a similar vein, Kenya last week became the first country in Africa to unveil a telemedicine technology hub for detection of coronavirus. This will boost her ability to respond to a contagious pandemic that is sweeping across the world like a bush fire and share learning on ways to contain COVID with other countries.
The latter underscores Kenya’s march at the forefront of innovation in diverse fields. The country was ranked second most innovative country in sub-Saharan Africa in the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index 2019, emerging in position 29 globally.
Third, several eminent Kenyan scientists have been enlisted in the global search for a vaccine for the coronavirus. They include respected virologists and epidemiologists based at the University of Nairobi’s Kenya Aids Vaccine Institute and at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. Their role includes identifying suitable candidates for vaccine trials as well as research into coronavirus management strategies.
Again, this gives the local scientific community exposure to global best practice and expertise in medical research and innovation. It also further raises Kenya’s international profile in the global scientific circles and builds on previous contributions by our scientists in the fields of medical research and vaccine development.
The examples highlighted above demonstrate Kenya’s unique position to champion the global fight against the COVID pandemic even as the country grapples with the looming threat of disease to her people. Like the rest of the international community, Kenya is on a steep learning curve battling a virulent monster whose dynamics and potential outcomes are only becoming known by the day.
This is a rare moment that Kenyans must not squander through laxity. We must remain extra vigilant against the enemy and ensure we are at the forefront of eliminating COVID through embracing social distancing and other precautions in our daily lives going forward until we win this war.
Peter Wafula Murumba is the Managing Director of Impulso Kenya Limited