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Kenyan Authorities Worried by Rise in New COVID Infections

FILE - A woman reacts as she receives a COVID vaccine under the COVAX program at Kenyatta National Hospital, in Nairobi, Kenya, March 5, 2021.

Health experts in Kenya are reporting a jump in confirmed cases of COVID-19, with hospitals struggling to find enough beds for patients needing treatment. Kenyan authorities are calling on people to protect against the virus as a third wave hits the nation.

Kenya has recorded more than 14,000 COVID-19 positive cases since March 1, including more than 1,100 cases and 25 deaths on Tuesday.

That’s 14% of all infections since authorities announced the first case just over a year ago.

Thirty-four-year-old Gaston Wabomba's mother tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

It took him 12 hours to secure a bed for his mother, who is short of breath and had to part with $1,000 before she was admitted to a hospital in Nairobi.

“We are on a 24/7 oxygen supply every single day. We are supposed to pay 24,000 for oxygen alone," Wabomba said. "They charge 1,000 shillings every hour and other medical bills. So our total comes to about 100,000-115,000 on average every single day since Tuesday last week. So she is not stable as yet. Today she’s been moved to a ventilator, but you can only hope for the best, we can only hope.”

Speaking to journalists in Nairobi, Chief Administrative Secretary at the health ministry Rashid Aman called out health centers charging a lot of money to treat COVID-19 patients.

"This is not only unethical and callous but also unacceptable. I wish to remind our healthcare providers, both private and public, that we are in a pandemic and this being the case it's not the time to punish our people through some self-seeking money minting opportunistic escapade," Aman said.

Some Kenyan medical workers spoke of being overwhelmed with people seeking treatment in their facilities and urged people to follow health protocols to limit the virus's spread.

Kenya recently began vaccination the population. The country has received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine but only 40,000 people have received jabs.

Chibanzi Mwachonda is the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union. He worries the vaccination drive is going too slow.

"There has been vaccine hesitancy and low uptake, and this is because there was no involvement of the health workers union associations before the rollout and also lack of adequate communication sensitization and awareness on the COVID vaccine," Mwachonda said. "In as much as healthcare workers understand the vaccine, let us also remember that we have had a long period of vaccine misconception, so it's important that we engage the health workers even as we continue with the vaccination.”

Meanwhile, Kenya has eased COVID-19 restrictions, schools are open, businesses are open, and worshipers are allowed in the places of worship.

Dr. David Sang, an epidemiologist, says people returning to normalcy is to blame for the increased cases.

"And also because of the numbers, the numbers also matter because you expect some increased mortality,” he said.

Overall, Kenya has seen 123,000 positive cases and more than 2,000 deaths since the pandemic began a year ago.