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Kenya's Ebola Workers Enlisted to Fight Coronavirus

A government health official sprays a chlorine solution on a public transport vehicle as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus in Nairobi, March 19, 2020.

Kenyan medical practitioners who helped in the fight against the West Africa Ebola outbreak have been deployed to Nairobi's main hospital to treat coronavirus patients.

Peterson Wachira was one of 155 Kenyan medics who went to Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2015 to help fight the Ebola outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people. Now, he is applying what he learned to combat the coronavirus in Kenya.

Community engagement is key to stopping the spread of the disease, he said.

"We have seen that mitigation of such a virus is a communal venture. You cannot protect yourself alone. It must communally be done so that you are able to mitigate. Otherwise, if it's not done communally, if people do not own up and do this, embrace behavior change as a community, then there is no way we are going to address this," Wachira said.

Kenyan authorities announced the country's first confirmed case of coronavirus last week.

The government has since restricted entry, canceled classes and events, and urged social distancing.

The country of 50 million people is relying partly on medics like Wachira to help fight the virus, acting Director-General of Health Patrick Amoth said at a news conference.

"Indeed, we have incorporated Ebola champions into our contingency plan," Amoth said. "They are part of the people who are assisting us with surveillance at our points of entry, they are in our isolation unit at Kenyatta National Hospital and Mbagathi County Hospital. They are also part of people assisting us in training the rest of the health workers, especially on issues regarding infection and prevention control."

FILE - The entrance of the Infectious Disease Unit of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, is seen during the COVID-19 outbreak, March 15, 2020.
FILE - The entrance of the Infectious Disease Unit of Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, is seen during the COVID-19 outbreak, March 15, 2020.

Kenya's Ministry of Health said 1,100 health workers have been trained to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But Wachira said fighting an outbreak like coronavirus requires more than training.

"When you are managing such an outbreak, it doesn't take knowledge alone," he said. "It also takes courage, and for you to have the courage to mitigate such an outbreak. Then you must have confidence in the mechanism you are using to protect yourself."

Kenyan media reports said some medical workers at Nairobi's coronavirus isolation and treatment centers had complained of a lack of proper training and protective gear.

Kenya Union of Doctors Secretary-General Ouma Oluga said the organization was worried that the conditions for health workers might be unsafe.

"Our biggest concern in our facilities — we do not have holding rooms, basically what we call cold rooms, so that the health workers do not go back to interact with their families, especially, should we get more cases and we get more health workers that are coming into contact with patients. Already in a few facilities, we have a number of health workers who have themselves been isolated," Oluga said.

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Thursday said the country would begin randomly screening people for the virus and forcibly quarantining those who failed to self-isolate.