OPINION: Stock up ventilators to manage COVID-19

OPINION: Stock up ventilators to manage COVID-19

By Dr. Steve Adudans

We have entered a dangerous stage in our effort to keep the COVID-19 at bay. Our preventive and containment efforts are falling apart. As it is, anybody and everybody is at risk of contracting the disease.

The carelessness with which we have managed the situation beats all the public health logic. That an infected deputy governor and a priest of one of the leading churches in the country went, about ignoring all the warning and guidelines to quarantine has exposed hundreds to infection raises our commitment in protecting the public from infections.

The government has been working at cross purpose, talking tough to cameras and wobbling behind the scenes. Take the example of the order of by the judiciary that all the 239 passengers who had arrived aboard a China Southern Airlines flight be tracked and kept under quarantine. Till now nobody knows if the directive was followed.

When I say we are in a dangerous stage, this is the point where were are more likely to see hundreds upon hundreds checking in to health facilities, with symptoms, but the personnel and the equipment available will be unprepared and overwhelmed. Many of these will be unable to breath and will need support.

Now in a country where medical equipment purchases is mired in mystery and dogged by corruption, one is not sure if we have adequate ventilators, if any, in our health facilities that can manage say 50 patients who report at once.

Ventilators, antibiotics and painkillers are some of the basic interventions that have so far been used to manage cases on some of the worst hit regions of the world. We have failed in the preventive and containment stage. Let us not let our people down.

In the last few days, you might have heard more about ventilators than you have in your entire life — specifically, a global shortage of them in the face of the pandemic that attacks the lungs. Ventilators, simply put, are machines that help people breathe when they can’t breathe on their own. Air is delivered through a tube in the patient’s windpipe into the lungs, mimicking the way we breathe naturally.

Covid-19, targets the lungs and can cause complications like pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Severe cases will require a ventilator to be able to deliver enough oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Without one, the patient could die. A ventilator shortage, then, will mean some patients are denied lifesaving care.

Depending on how far and how fast coronavirus spreads in the Kenya, the number of cases could overwhelm the country’s supply of hospital beds, medical professionals, and ventilators. As it is, we are not even sure about the number of ventilators in the country as we have never prioritized them.

There are some simple reasons why we might end up with a shortage. In normal circumstances, ventilators are more than enough for the ICUs and operating rooms that use them. In fact, some of the ventilators we do have are in storage, showing that there isn’t — at least, there wasn’t — a pressing need for them. Meanwhile, hospitals aren’t in the habit of buying extra equipment they don’t need. They typically can’t afford to do so now.

In the US for example GE Healthcare, which makes medical devices including ventilators, issued a statement saying it is exploring “all options to support this increased need, including increasing production lines and adding shifts.

Good people, we are living in tough times and we must take urgent measures to save our population from catastrophe by stocking adequate ventilators in health facilities.

The Writer is executive director, Center for Public Health and Development