As the government seeks to mash up efforts to flatten the curve on the spread of the coronavirus, it is becoming unclear whether these efforts are working for or against this goal. The directives issued by the government to protect the health and lives of Kenyans appear to achieve less than intended in the grand spectrum of things. From the onset, the tone that the government has used while addressing and updating the country on the status of the virus in the country has birthed fear and fueled the stigma surrounding this virus.
In recent weeks, citizens have come to experience the flip side of the seemingly rash decisions made by the government. To this extent, the public has been reacting casually to the directives. Where an individual chooses to adhere to the directives issued by the Ministry of Health not to protect themselves but to avoid risking arrest and mandatory quarantine. Also witnessed is the reluctance by residents in hot spot areas to participate in the free testing of the virus. The poor coordination of efforts between the government and citizens given the unprecedented times the country is in are all a recipe for disaster. When we actualize the mass testing initiative, the reality of the figures might slap us in the face and the gravity of the situation might be too difficult to begin to process.
To successfully and efficiently walk the talk, the government needs to rethink their approach and start making sound directives that put the citizen’s interest at the core and regain public trust. Guidelines can’t yield much without a clear pipeline on how to implement them.
Meanwhile, as we race against the clock to contain the virus, positive cases are increasing significantly. The hope that we can flatten the curve is far from reality according to the health concerns highlighted in the third report of the Senate Ad-hoc committee on the Covid-19 situation in Kenya. The report paints a picture of a health system that was already overwhelmed even before the virus. Kenya currently has only 297 ventilators and only 90 of these are available at public health facilities. The report further notes that in addition to the lack of adequate ICU facilities and ventilators, a shortage of oxygen and basic oxygen equipment in the counties further threatens Kenya’s ability to care for and manage COVID-19 patients who may develop mild to moderate symptoms. Thus, from the report, our only way out is to intensify containment measures and at least delay the spread of the virus even before the curve is flattened.
The government, therefore, needs to swiftly seek alternative ways of responding to the pandemic in an effective manner, without costing lives and causing untold suffering in the process. An evaluation protocol would be essential in measuring the effectiveness of the directives issued so far before rolling out any new measures. That coupled with the government’s ability to be agile might, in fact, give the country a chance to combat this pandemic.
There has been a growing need for good governance and public accountability by the public. A lot of donations, in cash and kind, have been made to enrich the government’s effort in beating the pandemic. This, therefore, means that transparency needs to guide the distribution of these resources to ensure that they’re optimized to the benefit of the citizenry and economy. Indeed, it would be really unfortunate if a scandal was borne out of this crisis.
Beyond transparency and accountability, the government has to be very intentional in having open and two-way dialogue with citizens. The government having monopoly on information and the ability to communicate works to no one’s advantage. Citizen engagement is important to not only beat the virus but to avoid being blindsided by other emerging challenges such as flooding, drought, seasonal illnesses and crime. A top-down and bottom-up network of interactions between the government and citizens will reduce the instances of resistances because citizens like the government become more aware of the impacts of their decisions. Such communication will foster coordination and, in the end, reduce fear and stigma.
In addition to this, government directives need to be systematic and sound. Just like the reopening of restaurants at a time when mass testing has not been up to scale the government needs to take the lead in terms of responsibility and address the gaps in its directives to avoid any further resistance or flipside effects. Due to the complexity and dynamic nature of communities, there is no room for blanket decisions. Tailor-making directives make it easier to identify strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the national government and the 47 county governments to ensure that all bases are covered. Failure to do this would then make universal health coverage, cushioning the vulnerable and targeted mass testing a farfetched dream that can only be theorized but not actualized.
At the end of the day, there are many obstacles to a coordinated approach that need to be addressed in order to plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to the effects of this invisible enemy.