Resident doctors at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), which is the nerve center of the government’s COVID-19 response, are not being supplied with adequate essential protective gear to do their work. 

With the country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases now well over 100, the national referral hospital’s essential staff are at risk of being part of the statistics. In the hospital structure, resident doctors are doctors in training to be specialists, who manage patients in the hospital under the supervision  of qualified specialists. 

The quarantining of healthcare staff at other hospitals over the last few weeks should have shone the spotlight on measures to protect critical staff while they work on the frontlines as our best hope at reducing the pandemic’s mortality rate. KNH is the most important hospital in the country, and the natural place to center the country’s primary response. But it’s critical staff have complained about being exposed to the risk of the virus on every shift, because hospital management has refused to give them the things they need to protect themselves and others. 

According to a source at the hospital, they used to be given PPEs, by the hospital, through the Chief Registrar, who is a student themselves. Apparently this has dramatically changed with orders given that an administrator at the hospital will now be issuing the PPEs. Apparently, it’s up to the administrator to decide whether the residents need the PPEs or not using WHO guidelines. This is unlike what used to happen in the past when they were available automatically every week. The reason given is that there are shortages and there have been promises that the equipment will be availed “as soon as possible”.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, health worker rights include a provision to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to health workers. The specific section reads as follows; “Employers and managers of health facilities should provide adequate IPC and PPE supplies (masks, gloves, goggles, gowns, hand sanitiser, soap and water.”

It is also basic common sense to protect critical frontline staff from getting infected so they can continue doing their work. If the pandemic was to spread among healthcare professionals, the battle for survival would as well be lost. It is hosting most of the quarantined patients in the country. 

Separately, the institution is also hosting patients who are suffering from other ailments. In one case, a child with an autoimmune condition was referred to the Kenyatta National Hospital after getting complications. The child was confirmed to have been positive for COVID-19 after he died at the hospital’s ICU; meaning that all the healthcare professionals who had interacted with him and his minders had to go into quarantine. While the fact that his minders did not inform them that they had just flown back into the country was immoral on their part, the fact that the doctors and nurses did not even have PPEs in the first place is a worse reality. 

While the government has focused on hiring new health practitioners and testing, it has ignored the real risk they all stand if they are not safe themselves. Global demand for PPEs, face masks and ventilators means that nearly every country is facing shortages, but it would not make sense to send healthcare workers on what is beginning to look like a suicide mission. 

Couple that with the fact that we are not testing enough, or even fast enough, to know just how widespread this pandemic is within our borders. 

According to Dr. Gikamba, the Public Relations Officer at the hospital, all the staff at the hospital are getting adequate PPEs. This is a direct contradiction of what our sources at the hospital told us.

In a world of uncertainty, the only sure thing is that we need our healthcare professionals, doctors and nurses, more than ever before. We need them to work in safety and with whatever they need to protect themselves, their families, and their colleagues. The KNH situation, which has placed an impossible choice before resident doctors, is a far cry from the reassuring words by Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe, who has constantly assured Kenyans that the public health situation is in control.

Edited by Owaahh