With the number of Covid-19 deaths rising to 285 on Monday, the Ministry of Health is banking on retired intensive care health workers to support patients in need of round-the-clock medical attention.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has instructed Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to develop a protocol to temporarily keep retired anaesthetists and ICU staff in hospitals.
The virus is in 45 counties now, with Baringo reporting its first case yesterday.
Covid-19 has stretched Kenya’s strained health human resource, which suffers from a chronic shortage of healthcare workers– 10 qualified medical personnel per 10,000 population against the recommended 22:10,000– but there are even fewer qualified healthcare workers in intensive care such as anaesthetists.
The decision to hire retired health workers is not applauded in health circles.
On his twitter page, Dr Andrew Suleh wrote: “Instead of hiring high-risk retired people, why not first absorb those young health workers who are jobless?”
The age group is also one that would be categorised as vulnerable to the virus.
In a study on nurses for neonates (babies under month), researcher Jecinta Nzinga from Kenya Medical Research Institute- Wellcome Trust noted that while there are around 50,000 nurses registered to practise, fewer than 17,000 offer services in the public sector.
Health Director-General Dr Patrick Amoth said the ICU is one of the most resource-consuming in the Covid-19 patient care.
The World Health Organisation reports that about 80 per cent of those with the virus recover without needing any specialist treatment, but an estimated one in six persons become very ill “and develop difficulty breathing”.
SARS-CoV-2 attacks the lungs, but the lack of oxygen does not attack lungs alone. It also damages the kidneys, liver, heart, brain, and other organs.
Severe Covid-19 features pneumonia, where the air sacs in the lungs develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is why patients need ventilators in the ICU.
Patients in intensive care need therapy to keep them moving–raising their arms and legs– so they do not develop muscle atrophy, where they wake up with legs that have “forgotten” to coordinate and walk.
This therapy is a challenge because as SARS-CoV-2 is highly infectious, bringing rehab specialists into patients’ rooms can be problematic.