Today, our country is faced with a scary challenge: a new virus that infects easily, has the potential to cause severe illness, and for which there is no ready cure. We have always said in our quests for better health systems that healthcare workers too are consumers of the same healthcare delivery structure. There is never a more explicit demonstration of this fact than when epidemics and pandemics occur. We too being human means that we are as susceptible to the virus as any other person. Yet it is to us that the sick will turn, not because we are immune, but because we bear the best human hope for relief and survival. Indeed, if the pattern witnessed in other countries is anything to go by, it is guaranteed that a number of health workers will be infected. Therein, as is natural to humans, lies a real concern.
The natural instinct when faced with danger is to get away from it and to preserve self. In this context, the COVID-19 challenge, what would that mean? China today is closing the last of the temporary hospitals that were built to combat the virus in Wuhan. The success they have witnessed is credited in part to the efforts of healthcare workers in that country who demonstrated sheer heroism. They projected character in the face of adversity, courage when faced with fear, admirable resilience and another level of selflessness. Without them, thousands more would have died, and it is unlikely that the outbreak would have been brought under control. On the flipside, had they not done what they did, it would have made their community less safe: everyone including the healthcare workers, and their families would have been at greater risk, for longer, with nowhere to turn to.
Allow me to draw another parallel. During the Dusit terrorist attack, Kenyan soldiers put themselves on the line: they stood up as the force between bullets fired by a set of killers and their intended victims. Indeed, one of them, Japhet Nduguja, lost his life in the process. It is this commitment to duty and common good that kept us…keeps us, safe.
Now it is our turn. The frontline in facing the enemy we face now cannot consist of the armed forces. That frontline has to be you and I. The risk to us should we turn our backs to this challenge is that where we run to, our homes, will have the very virus severe, for longer and we will have nowhere to turn to. It is not lost on me that there are no guarantees should we stand and give it our best shot. It’s worse that Js and Is have been in charge of health policies for a long time and got us to a place in which our system is not as robust as it could have been. That notwithstanding, we remain our best hope and during this time, have to be at our very best as healthcare professionals and as part of humanity. I know that this is a tough ask, but I also know that Kenya does have some of the best healthcare workers in the world: underappreciated, but some of the best nonetheless. It is our time.
To the long-unemployed doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, I apologize on behalf of my country for downplaying your importance, disregarding you and leaving you on your own despite our gaps. Should we just now remember you, and I pray that we do, you would be justified to refuse to listen. My prayer is that you would nonetheless, step up and answer the call for your value is inherent and not determined by the opinions of the Js and Is.
It is for instances such as these that the concept of calling becomes real, and the daily sacrifice becomes amplified. Our society needs us. Our families need us: paradoxically, this need is served best not by flight, but by fight: fighting as hard as we can to make this disease as short and as limited in spread and effect as possible. It is our turn. Let us pray, and give it our best. This way we will win.
May the almighty God grant you wisdom, protect you, bless you, bless your family and bless our country. Thank you.
Dr. Victor Ng’ani
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