Kenya lacks capacity to handle even basic health emergencies – WHO

By Gatonye Gathura

Kenya, planning to commission first nuclear reactor by 2027, cannot handle cholera let alone a radiation accident, shows a recent World Health Organization peer review.

In an ongoing UN Member States peer evaluation, Kenya scores very poorly in her capacity to prevent, detect and respond to public health emergencies.

On the simple issue of cholera, for example, the new investigation shows Kenya to have excellent plans on paper but which have not been translated to successes.

“In general, the response to foodborne illnesses has been more reactive than proactive, which has a negative impact on public health” says WHO.

A report by the Ministry of Health shows Kenya has been trying unsuccessfully to stop the current cholera outbreak which started in 2014. The latest case of cholera involves about 100 police officers in Nairobi.

The peer review exercise, organized by the WHO for each of the Member States show Kenya ill prepared to deal with simple matters like cholera to monumental threats such as nuclear accidents.

The evaluation which so far has covered 47 UN Member States say Kenya lacks the capacity, skills and equipment to deal with food poisoning, chemical and radiation threats.

The evaluation further shows that most food safety laboratories in Kenya are not accredited while there are not enough trained personnel, equipment and skills to deal with food safety issues.

The report says Kenya has failed to enforce current food security laws while there is an apparent lack of political will to improve food safety in the country.

Shaken by emerging global health threats including Ebola and possible bioterrorism attacks the UN members established the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR).

The IHR to which Kenya is a signatory requires UN member countries put measures in place to prevent the spread of various public health threats.

Such threats include, infectious diseases, accidental or deliberate biological, chemical or nuclear accidents and antibiotic resistance.

In a follow up to find out how Member States are faring, a Joint External Evaluation Mission to Kenya with investigators from US, Uganda, Ethiopia, Namibia, Nigeria and Italy has just posted its final report on the official WHO website.

The August report says while Kenya  intends to commission its first nuclear reactor within 10 years, in 2027, not a single health facility has been identified for use in radiation emergencies.

The peer reviewers found no existing procedures in Kenya to deal with people contaminated with radiation.

“Medical staff is not trained to detect and follow-up people exposed or contaminated with radiation and no procedures have been created for self-presenters to hospitals”

In an ascending score from 1 to 5 Kenya scores lowest in her preparedness to prevent, detect or even respond to any radiation related threat. “Simply there are no safety plans for radiation emergency preparedness and response.”

The report shows anybody can freely walk into the country with radiation contaminated substances including foods as well as medical and other radiology devices.

Of the 38 officially listed points of entry to Kenya only, Kilindini Harbour in Mombasa is equipped with a systematic radiation detection system for goods and foodstuffs, says the review.

The joint review also involving local experts seem to agree that Kenyans are dangerously exposed to most of the health threats under investigation.

In none of the 19 indicators under review did Kenya score the top mark, largely scoring below three.

The worst performances, tagged red alert are Kenyans incapacity to link personnel to emergencies, and preparedness to deal with radiation threats.

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