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The mother of all pandemics, the thought of this virus brings chills to people everywhere. The virus first started in Wuhan, China in December 2019 but by March 2020 was declared a global pandemic, less than four months and it has spread across 196 countries worldwide with 453,074 cases and this number is on a rapid increase as new cases are confirmed each day from around the world.

Many outbreaks, more severe, have come before this outbreak but none has been able to wreak havoc and fear as much as the dreaded corona virus disease 2019 (COVID 19). In 2019 alone, there were over 10 disease outbreaks across different countries, more fatal than the COVID 19. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS COV) in Qatar with a death rate of 13%, Yellow fever in Nigeria, Ebola in Congo, Zika  virus in France, Dengue fever in Pakistan and Spain, and many more. A while back in 2009, a new virus emerged in the USA called H1N1 Influenza virus that killed mostly younger people because it was believed that older people already had immunity to an older type H1N1 virus, this virus reported 60million cases with 12,469 deaths globally. It was declared a national pandemic in April 12th 2009. A close cousin to the COVID 19, which came before her way back in 2003 also did a lot of damage with 8000 cases across 26 countries, (in 2003 that was a lot of damage). It was called SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). It was also declared a national pandemic but after much consideration this declaration was revoked. The human race has experienced new and serious pandemics before, but what about the COVID 19?

The COVID 19 is believed to have come from an infected animal in Wuhan, China to a human. The virus looks like a tiny ball with spikes, and depending on the type of spikes, the virus attaches to different parts of the respiratory system. Some viruses will attach to the nose, causing simple things such as a mild flu, but the particular virus that causes the COVID 19, called SARS-COV-2 attaches to the lungs and uses the body cells to create copies of itself, bringing about difficulty in breathing, fever, coughing, and in advanced stages, body aches and failure of vital organs such as the lungs and kidneys. This is therefore not just a simple flu, take it seriously. This virus is easily spread from person to person through body fluids when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and a healthy person is exposed to the droplets. The droplets can live on metal surfaces for 4hrs, cardboard surfaces for 24hrs, plastic surfaces for 2days, and hang in the air for 3hrs. It is therefore very important to clean surfaces with an alcohol based disinfectant or wash with soap and water, especially public surfaces which is exposed to a large number of people, it is also very important to wash your hands, or disinfect as you are prone to touch surfaces that could be infected. Keep away from sneezy people and most importantly, avoid unnecessary movements as you cannot prevent yourself from interacting with droplets hanging in the air.

On 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID 19 outbreak a national pandemic. In his speech, the director general pointed four key areas to look at in dealing with the global disaster;

1.       Prepare and be ready. Are we ready as a country? No! Is the health sector prepared? Are our health care providers equipped? Both in handling those infected effectively and ensuring they are safe as they care for those infected? Do we have enough equipment to handle the rising number of cases? Are we ready for the economic slant that is already taking a toll on us? We are not, sad to say, we are not prepared for the pandemic facing us head on. But how can we prepare and get ready for what lays ahead? Some things might be beyond your power but as an individual, you can take measures. Get as much knowledge as you can on the virus, that way, you will make informed decisions and you will not be driven by myths and misconceptions. Much as this is a new virus and there is not enough knowledge about it out there, you can equip yourself with the facts already available, and since the information coming in about the virus keeps advancing, it would be good to keep updating your knowledge on the virus.

2.       Detect, protect and treat. As we speak I am assuming there are Kenyans who are infected and are not aware they are infected, and so they go about their daily routines in ignorance. On top of that they do not follow the measures put in place by the government, and when they start showing symptoms of the virus they will dismiss it as a simple common cold. My deepest gratitude goes out to Jack Ma for his generous donation of face masks, testing kits, protective gear, and medical equipment. In Kenya, before his donation, there were only two testing stations that could each test about 300 samples daily, but now we have 5 testing stations: KEMRI, Aga Khan Hospital and National Influenza Centre in Nairobi. CDC- KEMRI in Kisumu and Welcometrust-KEMRI in Kilifi. Our ability to test has been improved greatly, though still not sufficient for the large population, it is better. Please make a point of getting tested once you suspect you have the virus, go to the nearest health facility, announce your arrival and request to be tested. This is the point where I hope the nurses and clinical officers in the rural clinics have been trained to handle such cases professionally. You know the way we’ve been saying over and over about knowing your status as far as HIV/AIDS Is concerned? Same thing here, you protect yourself and your loved ones when you know your status and thus receive treatment early enough.

3.       Reduce transmission. This is where the utter ignorance of Kenyans come in. We have very little knowledge of the virus and therefore, very careless and negligent in our dealings. We spray and disinfect our market area only to confidently invite traders claiming it is now safe. We move markets to larger areas to reduce congestion, not knowing the virus does not care about location. We are told to STAY AT HOME to reduce transmission but poor Kenyans, they would rather die of corona than starve to death. At this rate, the hardest area to check on will be how to reduce on transmission.

4.       Innovate and learn. The only thing I’ve seen Kenyans innovate are memes, and we are yet to learn anything from countries that have gone before us. I would love to see Kenyans coming up with solutions for the families who live from hand to mouth, who cannot afford to stay at home, or sleep thinking of tomorrow’s meal. What can we do to keep them at home so as to reduce the rate of transmission? Truth is, we are a poor country. Majority of the population live below the poverty line. But we are also smart and innovative, and compassionate. We can think of a few practical solutions. By now we should have learnt a few things from China, Italy, Spain and USA, that we could apply to our situation now. I once saw a fund drive by a young lady to raise ksh 1000 to support a few families in kibera slums. She was looking for 100 people to contribute ksh 1000 each to support 20 families with essential items during this difficult time. Very commendable, doing what she can, the little she can. I hope the 20 families receive what they need.

The bitter truth. COVID 19 is a new virus, with very little knowledge about it available. No outbreak has reached the fatality of COVID 19 before in history. We are yet to know the severity and transmissibility of this outbreak. Never underestimate a new disease, Let us recognize and respect that is a serious disease. Who is at risk? Everyone everywhere, not only the elderly and those with weak immunity. In Italy, even those in their 20s and 30s are fighting for their lives in the ICU, and they lose the battle. Chinese lost even the younger population, those in their 20s and 30s and seemingly strong. Do not be fooled that this disease cannot affect Africans, it is only a matter of time. As of 11th March 2020 (when it was declared a national pandemic) the number of cases were 118,000 across 110 countries, on 18th March 2020, the number of cases reported rose to 184,976 across 159 countries with 7,529 deaths. On 23rd March the number of cases rose to 395,502 across 194 countries with 17,229 deaths. Today 25th March, the total number of cases reported since the outbreak, 453,074 across 196 countries with 20,512 deaths. I advise you take a pen and paper, write down those numbers and analyse them well. Take the necessary precautions.

There is hope. Take the necessary precautions. China is recovering and slowly going back to normal. Doctors in India and researchers are working on drugs and antibodies to fight the virus. A lot of research has gone into the virus and scientists are seeing breakthroughs. The number of those recovering is really high, making the death rate low, about 4% the human race is not easily defeated, and we emerge victorious in the end. Still, my greatest hope is that we have a merciful God in heaven who hears our cries and answers our prayers.

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