Covid-19 is taking away our right to healthcare
This week, Kenya said goodbye to one of its brightest artistic sons in Charles Bukeko, popularly known as Papa Shirandula.
Besides brightening our screens with laughter through his entertaining series, at the time of his death, Papa, as many of his friends called him, was also a husband, a father of three, the first-born son to his parents and the big brother to four siblings.
To his friends, he was a mentor, a shoulder and supporter in times of need. Many Kenyans knew him as an entertainer with an addictive smile that could make anyone laugh by merely seeing him laugh. He will be fondly remembered.
While we pray that his soul rests in peace, we cannot ignore his untimely and tragic death. Information that went round on social media soon after his death was that he was diagnosed and died of Covid-19. While the jury is still out on this fact, what shocked many is how his illness was dealt with.
During the funeral service, Kenyans listened in disbelief as the widow narrated her husband’s last days. It would appear that while it is true Papa was sick, the insistence on Covid-19 testing only and the slow pace of admission might have complicated his situation and contributed to his death.
According to Beatrice Andega, despite needing to test for other illnesses —pneumonia and malaria — Papa was only tested for Covid-19. If no other tests were done, then he was not treated for the other illnesses. How then do doctors treat a patient when they only test for one disease?
If Papa had other illnesses that remained untreated, could he have died of those other illnesses? We all now know that Covid-19 has no cure and is only managed by treating the symptoms. How could the doctors treat Papa if they didn’t carry the tests to confirm whether the symptoms could have been for other diseases besides Covid-19?
What is more shocking, however, from Andega’s speech was Papa’s last few moments. She said Papa arrived at the hospital still alive but short of breath. Despite her insistence for medical care for her husband, it would appear the hospital staff were too engaged in first sorting admission paper work and failed to offer emergency medical assistance to a patient who was clearly in a serious condition.
Whether it’s their fear of Covid-19 or hospital bureaucracies on admitting patients, there was delay and Papa died while still seated in his vehicle. The widow watched in disbelief as her husband took his last breath.
Article 43 (2) of the Constitution states that “a person shall not be denied emergency medical treatment.” This Article means irrespective of the status of the patient, including their health condition or financial status, all hospitals, clinics, dispensaries and medical personnel, private or public, must ensure they treat emergency situations and in the minimum, offer first aid.
The question many Kenyans are asking is had the Constitution been followed and Papa given emergency medical treatment, including being put on oxygen immediately he arrived at the hospital, would he have been alive today?
Stories similar to Papa’s are abound out there. Medical service providers during this pandemic are only concentrating on and dealing with all illnesses as Covid-19 cases. It is as if Kenyans have automatically become immune to all the other diseases and are only susceptible to the coronavirus.
The slightest sign of a cough or sneeze is automatically treated with fear and stigma, causing unnecessary delays to treat. Even those who die of other causes are suddenly treated as Covid-19 deaths. This state of affairs then robs the people of their right to healthcare and forces them to avoid hospitals and thus die silently of treatable illnesses.
While we appreciate the marvellous job done by health service providers across Kenya in dealing with Covid-19, we must remind them that the disease has not taken away the right to healthcare, including emergency medical treatment.
Doctors and nurses should remember there are also other illnesses that need treatment and for those with Covid-19, emergency medical treatment is at times paramount and medical officers should always be prepared for this. Lest we bury many more as we have buried our friend Papa.
By Hussein Khalid