- Mr Omtatah argues that Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe exceeded his powers to make regulations under the Public Health Act by purporting to create criminal offenses and penalties as this is Parliament’s role.
- In his suit against the Health CS and the Attorney-General, he further accuses the government of failing to define the disease in the disputed rules yet it is new.
By MAUREEN KAKAH - 23. April 2020
Activist Okiya Omtatah has filed a law suit challenging the manner in which some of the government's measures against the coronavirus pandemic were formulated and are being implemented.
Mr Omtatah is specifically challenging sections of the Public Health Act, namely the Prevention, Control and Suppression of Covid-19 Rules, 2020; the Nairobi Metropolitan Area Order, 2020 and the Covid-19 Restriction of Movement of Persons and Related Measures Rules, 2020.
The activist is challenging the government’s decision to force people into quarantine for public health protection without obtaining an order from a magistrate’s court as required by law.
He is also opposed to the fact that those quarantined have to pay for their stay in places which are not of their choice, the arbitrary extension of their stays as well as the government's failure to protect those affected from being infected.
Mr Omtatah argues that Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe exceeded his powers to make regulations under section 36 of the Public Health Act by purporting to create criminal offenses and penalties as this is Parliament’s role.
He further says that arbitrarily extending the period of compulsory quarantine for all individuals, beyond the period initially imposed, is an illegality.
"The government further broke the law by failing to ensure the people it had forced into quarantine were adequately accommodated," he says.
The activist also says that Section 27 of the Act expressly provides that such compulsory isolation must be at the cost of the local authority of the district where the person requiring the isolation is found.
He also notes that the Public Health Act requires the State to foot the bills of those forced to quarantine for public health protection.
This section of the law provides for isolation and detention on a certificate signed by the medical officer of health and an order of a magistrate of persons who may be infected with a notifiable infectious disease.
Mr Omtatah says, "There is no power under Section 27 for the government to require persons whom it believes are not accommodated in such a manner as is adequate to guard against the spread of the disease to meet some or any of the costs of providing the required adequate accommodation."
In his suit against the Health CS and the Attorney-General, the activist further accuses the government of failing to define the disease in the disputed rules yet it is new.
Mr Omtatah also faults the government the government for failing to take into account public participation yet it embarked on doing so in the recent Public Finance Management (Emergency Response Fund) draft regulations.
“I firmly believe strictly adherence to these principles in dealing with and seeking to combat the spread of the coronavirus is indeed a matter of life or death, the very reason why they are part and parcel of Kenya’s national values as well as principles of governance,” he says.
He adds, “It is my case that the state of affairs constitutes a gross violation of the Constitution and therefore it is invalid hence the court is enjoined to intervene. The threats and violations of the Constitution arise from the government’s irregular and unlawful enactment of laws that border on fascism.”
Activist Okiya Omtatah Okoiti also knows how poor the medical services still are in Kenya. He had just lost on 16. April 2020 his third-born daughter, 21-year-old Maryann Marisyanna Annuarite due to severe malaria. The third year student of diplomacy and international relations at Riara University died after a week in coma at a Nairobi Hospital. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga sent his condolences and urged the activist to channel the pain into pushing for policies to improve the lives of fellow Kenyan citizens.
- As the new coronavirus swept through the world, causing panic and anxiety, the shipping firm employee and 10 of her colleagues flew into Nairobi from Dubai, the UAE.
- Getting to Nairobi was a logistical nightmare that stretched into three flights as there was no direct one to Nairobi.
- On arrival in Nairobi, Khadija and her workmates were in for a rude shock.
When Khadija (not her real name) landed in Kenya on March 24, she did not have the slightest idea of the ordeal that awaited her.
As the new coronavirus swept through the world, causing panic and anxiety, the shipping firm employee and 10 of her colleagues flew into Nairobi from Dubai, the UAE.
Getting to Nairobi was a logistical nightmare that stretched into three flights as there was no direct one to Nairobi.
“We flew from Dubai to Muscat, Oman, on March 24 and waited several hours before catching a connecting flight to Doha, Qatar. From Doha, we flew to Nairobi the next day," she said.
On arrival in Nairobi, Khadija and her workmates were in for a rude shock.
“Authorities at the airport insisted that we be taken into quarantine pending testing for Covid-19. They told us to head to a number of city hotels for accommodation for the duration of the quarantine. However, the charges at the hotels they listed were too expensive for most of us,” she said.
When the weary passengers protested the exorbitant charges, the authorities backed down and offered to accommodate them at the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC).
This was, however, a cropper as the institution refused to admit them, forcing the authorities to take them to Moi Girls' High School.
“We spent a tense and agonising 12 hours at the airport after our flight as the back and forth between the authorities and the institutions ensued. Finally, Moi Girls' agreed to take us in so we were driven there,” said Khadija.
Khadija said the 129 guests at the school are forced to share dormitories and related facilities including bathrooms, toilets, handwashing and dining areas.
“At the school, we are sharing everything including bathrooms, toilets and hand washing areas. This places us at risk of getting infected should one of us have Covid-19," she said.
The 28-year-old said the group at the school includes Pakistanis, Syrians, Cameroonians and other foreign nationals, whose state is yet to be confirmed as they have only been tested once.
In a phone interview with the Nation, she said medical officials had only tested the group once and then checked their temperature using thermal scanners like those used at airport terminals.
“We have only been tested once - on March 30,” she said.
Khadija's worst fears were confirmed when three quarantined people were confirmed positive for the deadly disease.
She accused the authorities of not isolating them speedily them from the general population.
“The authorities did not take them into isolation so that they could be treated. This left us at risk of getting infected as the sick individuals were left to live and move freely among us,” she said.
Ms Khadija said the sick individuals were finally moved to a facility on March 3.
She is afraid they infected other people at the quarantine site.
“To make a risky situation worse, we have not been tested since they were taken away. Instead, we are mingling freely with each other, placing the uninfected ones at great risk of contracting the disease from those who have not yet started showing symptoms,” she said.
Ms Khadija said the situation at the school is gloomy yet the authorities are focused on ensuring they each pay Sh28,000 before they are allowed to leave when their quarantine period ends.
“A lady in charge of the site always insists that anyone wishing to leave must part with Sh28,000 before being cleared,” she said.
Ms Khadija also accused the security team of being harsh and said they are no longer allowed to purchase food outside the school.
“Initially, we were allowed to order food from outside the site but nowadays if we attempt to do so, the guards take our money and eat the food without giving us any explanation. There are three Syrians in here who are not eating anything yet no one is bothered about improving our living conditions,” she said.
The shipping clerk also claimed there is a woman with a baby at the school, who faces a similar risk of infection due to interacting with asymptomatic residents.
“We have been treated unfairly at the school. Reports that the quarantine has been extended by another two weeks have left us in despair,” she said.
Ms Khadijafurther claimed the residents were threatened with arrest if they continued being difficult and demanding for their rights.
"This afternoon, one of the administration officials told us our quarantine period will be extended if we continue being difficult and arguing with them over our rights and the quality of our stay," she said.
She claimed there are three pregnant women at the site and that they have not received any specialised care or medical attention.
In a separate call to the Nation, an expectant woman at another quarantine site claimed she was taken to the Kenyatta National Hospital when she complained of being unwell but was forced to return after the referral facility refused to admit her.
“When I fell ill, I pleaded with the authorities to take me to a hospital for treatment. They told me of a private hospital but said the costs were too high so I declined," said the woman identified only as Rosemary.
Rosemary said the administrators told her the ambulance was available at Sh 5,000 but that she did not have the cash.
"A sympathetic medic offered to call a friend with an ambulance to take me to KNH. In the end, they decided to take me to KNH. I waited from 7 pm to midnight. That was when I was taken to hospital."
At KNH, Rosemary was taken to the labour ward, where things soon turned ugly.
“The nurses refused to admit me unless I showed them documents to prove that I was Covid-19 negative,” she said.
She said the medics treated her as just a suspected Covid-19 case.
“All their questions were related to Covid-19. At no point did they show interest in my pregnancy or the pain I was feeling. In the end, I asked the authorities to return me to the quarantine site,” said the 25-year-old who is eight months pregnant.
“My family back home is distraught as they cannot afford the quarantine fees demanded by the authorities. I do not know when I will finally go home,” she said.
Calls to Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe to comment on the allegations by quarantined individuals went unanswered.
Further calls and messages to the Health Chief Administrative Secretary, Dr Mercy Mwangangi, also went unanswered.
The Nation also tried in vain to call Dr Kadondi Kasera who is part of the coronavirus case management team at the ministry.
Kenya is currently battling the covid-19 pandemic with 172 confirmed cases, seven recoveries and six deaths.
On Monday, President Uhuru Kenyatta restricted movement into and out of the four counties where cases have been reported as part of many measures to reduce cases of local transmission.
The counties are Nairobi, which has the bulk of the cases, Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale.
The extension of the days has not been positively received by some of the people who have been in quarantine.
The people will be quarantined for 14 days in selected hotels and government facilities as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.
By ANGELA OKETCH - 05. April 5 2020
The directive from the acting Director-General for Health Patrick Amoth to the heads of directorates and all quarantine site in charge on Saturday stated that the extension was informed by the fact that some of those quarantined in the same the facility had tested positive and have since been transferred to the designated isolation centres.
Most of the positive cases in the country have been reported in quarantined centres.
"It has been brought to my attention that some of those quarantined in the same facility have tested positive for Covid-19. This is effect changes their status from quarantined from travel to contacts of positive Covid-19 patients,” said Dr Amoth.
The government had earlier announced 14-day mandatory quarantine in selected hotels and government facilities for all Kenyans arriving from abroad at their own cost as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.
The extension of the days has not been positively received by some of the people who have been in quarantine. They claimed that the government was treating them like prisoners.
Ms Euphine, who came from abroad and has been quarantined at Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) said that she was not willing to stay any longer at the centre after the expiry of the initial recommended 14 days. She has two days left to be in quarantine.
“It is not our fault that some of us got infected at the centre but at Kenya Medical Training College, people are socialising normally as if nothing is happening in the country. We share washrooms. How do you expect us to keep distance yet we use the same lifts and dine in the same hall,” she said.
The government expects up to 2,000 people will be placed under mandatory quarantine and has issued guidelines on their handling and living conditions.
The individuals will be quarantined for 14 days in selected hotels and government facilities as part of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus.
A document by the Ministry of Health outlines protocols to guide the management of the quarantine states that guests will have their meals delivered at their doorsteps and when they are done eating, the used utensils will be placed in bleach solution provided by the hotel.
“Why are we still called to go and collect our food and people are mingling? Why is the government taking our lives for granted,” she asked.
At the centre, she says, five people were picked by ambulance on Friday night and they are suspecting that they were positive.
“The test was done and no one has communicated to us about our results. We are kept in darkness. How sure are we that the people who have so far been infected and taken to isolation centres infected some of us?” she says.
She maintained that should the government extend the quarantine period, then they will have to take care of the cost and have her transferred to another centre.
“If the situation continues to be the same. Then I am afraid we are likely to have more people infected. I want to be transferred to another centre and the government will pay,” she says.
Mr Cornel Chege said that for the 14 days that he has been in quarantine, his bills have been paid by well-wishers.
"I hurriedly came back home without enough money. I am literally relying on people to pay for my accommodation. How do I tell them again to pay for the additional 14 days? I want to go home," he said.
He called upon the Ministry of Health to ensure that everyone who was tested gets results and be put in facilities where they can observe social distancing guidelines.
Dr Amoth said the extension was because, those quarantined in various facilities have not maintained optimal social distance, prescribed hygiene measures and have instead had close contacts and interactions.
“These factors facilitate transmission and cross-infection and therefore it is impossible to determine whether those who were quarantined in the facility are actually safe to be released into the general public,” he said.
“We direct that they observe all the advice on social distancing, hygiene measures and to limit interactions during the period after which a repeat testing for Covid-19 shall be undertaken,” he said.
Activist Omtatah seen as the one man standing for law and justice in Kenya
24 Sep 2018 ... Activist Okiya Omtatah. Members of the public have started a campaign to raise funds for Mr Omtatah. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP ...
20 Jan 2018 ... It is the same Mr Omtatah who last October saved consumers from a hike in prices of bottled water, juice, soda and other soft drinks. Kenyans will ...
1 Sep 2019 ... Activist Okiya Omtatah at Milimani Law Courts on September 14, 2018. He says he is driven by fidelity to the law and the public interest. PHOTO ...
2 Jul 2018 ... LSK president says activist Omtatah is 'doing their work' and stealing the limelight .
DOWNLOAD: Reports of the impacts of Covid-19 to the vulnerable groups and general public (pdf) April-May 2020
1.The Government’s response to the pandemic should be more of a health response with appropriate civic education.
2.The Government needs to urgently investigate all excesses by security agencies and hold to account all officers found culpable.
3.The Governments needs to urgently review its policy on access to education for marginalized communities and people from poor backgrounds
Ensure Access to Health Care, Sanitation, Information
Kenyan authorities are potentially facilitating transmission of the Covid-19 virus while forcefully quarantining tens of thousands of people in facilities that lack proper sanitation, protective equipment and food, Human Rights Watch, Kenya Human Rights Commission, and Journalists for Justice said today.
The authorities have also held crowds of people in the arrivals area at the Nairobi airport for more than four hours with no social distancing, sanitizers or masks; ferried people in packed buses with little ventilation and, at the quarantine facilities, failed to enforce quarantine guidelines issued by the Health Ministry. The authorities also have forced people into quarantine for violating curfew or for not following orders to wear face masks.
“Kenyan authorities are exposing people to a risk of infection in poorly managed and ill-equipped quarantine facilities,” said Otsieno Namwaya, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Despite credible accounts of people with traumatizing experiences in forced quarantine, conditions have not improved.”
Between mid-April and mid-May, researchers spoke to a total of 26 people, including 22 people in 11 quarantine facilities across the country – among them the Kenya School of Government and Kenya Medical Training Institute in Nairobi – as well as three front line doctors and a senior nurse. Those forced to quarantine were incoming travelers, people who had contacts with travelers, and, in some cases, people who violated the curfew imposed on March 27 or orders to wear masks in public.
On March 15, 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the closure of all schools and colleges to curb the spread of the virus. On March 22, the health cabinet secretary, Mutahi Kagwe, banned international flights in and out of Kenya, except for cargo flights and announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers, and those who may have been in contact with them. However, the authorities did little to prepare facilities and staff on how to handle those in quarantine.
As of May 26, Kenyan authorities said they had quarantined and tested 64, 264 people. About 2 percent- 1,348- tested positive for Covid-19, among 50 have died, and about 405 have recovered and been discharged. On May 4, the authorities said they had started mass testing in the capital, Nairobi, and in Mombasa’s old town, where residents were reluctant to present themselves for testing out of fear of being forcefully quarantined, media reported.
The authorities in Nairobi had earlier said that travelers at the airport could choose between paying to stay in a hotel or staying without charge in a government quarantine facility. Unlike in most other countries with a significant number of people in quarantine, in most cases people were not allowed to self-quarantine in private homes where feasible.
People interviewed described poor conditions of the quarantine facilities, including lack of bedding, water, food, and cleaning supplies, including soaps and detergents. They said they weren’t told of test results and that staff did not adhere to the government’s own protocols, such as wearing face masks or other protective equipment, to ensure that those quarantined do not become exposed to the virus.
A 22-year-old man who was quarantined at the Kenya Industrial Training Institute (KITI), in Nakuru, Rift Valley, following his arrival from France on March 23 said:
“When I checked in, I found there was no electricity, no bathing water, no food and no water to drink. The beds had no mattresses or beddings. I slept on the spring bed with no mattress and nothing to cover myself. They told me I had to pay for water.”
Many others described similar conditions in other facilities across the country and said that the authorities sometimes extended quarantine periods from the initial mandatory 14 days, to more than 30 days, even when people tested negative several times. All those interviewed were asked to pay for accommodations, food, and other costs before being allowed to leave. Many of those who could not pay were held for additional days and, in one instance at Kenya School of Government, police were called in to beat those who persisted in pleading their inability to pay, victims and witnesses said.
On May 14, Human Rights Watch, Kenya Human Rights Commission, and Journalists for Justice wrote to the health cabinet secretary, Mutahi Kagwe, requesting information on the abuses in quarantine centers, and the government’s response to the complaints of those in quarantine, conditions in the facilities and the issue of payment for quarantine. Secretary Kagwe has not responded.
"It is disturbing that people who arrived from abroad are herded straight into these facilities without considerable thought being given to the wellbeing of those sent to these facilities,” said Kwamchetsi Makokha, program adviser at Journalists for Justice, a Nairobi based organization. “It is even more shocking that some people have stayed in quarantine for periods of up to 30 days, well beyond the official 14-day period, because they were unable to pay."
Among those forced into quarantine for breaching the Covid-19 curfew was Carolyne Akumu, a 35-year-old mother, together with her month-old child. Akumu, said that Busia county officers arrested her on May 1 as she rushed home at 7:10 p.m., 10 minutes after the curfew time. Police forced her to go to what she described as a derelict and dusty quarantine facility in Nambale, 40 kilometers from Busia, where she slept on a cold floor with nothing to cover herself and her child. Akumu said she tested negative the following day, and was released on the second day, following intervention by civil society groups.
The authorities should urgently take measures to improve conditions in public quarantine facilities, including regular cleaning and fumigation, change of bed linens, provision of meals in all facilities and adequate psychosocial support and medical care where need be, Human Rights Watch, Kenya Human Rights Commission, and Journalists for Justice said.
In addition, the authorities should ensure adequate care and access to communication, including in accessible formats, with the outside world for those in quarantine, and waive fees associated with quarantine and related medical care for those who cannot afford them. Individuals should be assessed for self-quarantine, provided that they are able to maintain social distancing and proper support from a caregiver.
Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Kenya ratified in 1972, everyone has the right to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Governments are obligated to take effective steps for the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases.” However, any restrictions they impose for reasons of public health or national emergency need to be lawful, necessary and proportionate and be carried out in accordance with the law. They cannot be imposed in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.
“President Kenyatta should demonstrate to the world that Kenya can implement its quarantine policy in a humane and accountable manner,” said George Kegoro, executive director at Kenya Human Rights Commission. “The president should ensure that government meets all quarantine-related costs, as cabinet secretary for health Mutahi Kagwe promised on May 6.”
Dusk to Dawn Curfew
On March 25, President Kenyatta announced a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew starting March 27. On April 3, the authorities made it mandatory for everyone to wear masks in public places and introduced mandatory quarantine for those who did not wear masks or breached curfew, but parliament rejected that requirement on April 21. Researchers spoke to three people who said the police had arrested them days before the law was presented to parliament and placed them in mandatory quarantine for breaching curfew or failure to wear a mask in public.
Kenyan media have also reported several other incidents in which police forcefully quarantined people for breaching curfew without evidence that they had been exposed to the virus. Kenyan activists have gone to court to challenge government quarantine policy. On April 18, Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and Aids (KELIN), Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) and seven Kenyans who had served various periods in quarantine filed a petition seeking to have the government cover all expenses incurred by people in quarantine facilities or in isolation at government health facilities. The petitioners alleged that the government carried out quarantine measures in an abusive, degrading and unconstitutional manner.
Mandatory quarantine for breaching curfew or not wearing a mask is problematic. It is not the least restrictive measure possible, it can amount to detention that has been imposed without warning, and the conditions in quarantine may be undermining public health, compared with self-quarantine at home, by increasing exposure to the virus.
Failure to Provide Sanitary, Humane Conditions
On March 27, five days after Kenya imposed mandatory quarantine for international arrivals, the Health Ministry published a quarantine protocol describing the standards for quarantine facilities. The protocol requires the facilities to be well ventilated, ensure social distancing, have regular cleaning and disinfection of laundry, dedicated linen and eating utensils for each person in quarantine, and for the facilities to regularly provide detergents for cleaning.
Researchers found that the facilities did not uphold the protocols. Three people interviewed – who were quarantined at the Kenya School of Government, Pride Inn, and a 29-year-old man at KMTC Nairobi – described dusty and neglected facilities and said they were responsible for cleaning their own rooms and bathrooms but often were not provided with cleaning supplies.
Some of the facilities outside Nairobi had neither beds nor bed linen, and those admitted there had to spend nights on cold floor. For example, Kisoko Girls High school had no beds, linen or healthcare staff to look after those admitted other than security guards at the gate.
In the Kenya Industrial Training Institute (KITI) in Nakuru county, those quarantined were given bed linen two days after admission but said it was neither washed nor replaced for the whole quarantine period- sometimes more than 14 days. In at least four facilities – KITI, Kenyatta University Conference Centre, Cooperative University Retreat Centre and Kenya School of Government – those interviewed said that the Health Ministry did not provide detergents and that those in quarantine had to either buy the detergents or use what may have been left by previous occupants.
At KITI, four of those who had been quarantined said they had to buy food, water, and soap and clean the facility themselves. A 22-year-old man quarantined at the facility recalled:
“There was no electricity, no bathing water, no food and no water to drink. The entire place was dusty. The beds had no mattresses or beddings. I slept on the spring bed with no mattress and nothing to cover myself for two days when they brought us beddings. They told me I had to pay for water.”
Failure to Protect People Against Infection
Two arriving travelers said they believed they may have been infected either at the airport arrivals lounge where the authorities held crowds of people from various parts of the world for hours or inside fully packed and poorly ventilated buses that ferried them from the airport to quarantine centers.
Buses used to ferry the arriving travelers to the facilities were both poorly ventilated and, in some cases, packed beyond capacity, and police officers failed to observe social distancing measures or wear protective equipment on the buses, those interviewed said.
Four people said they believed they could have contracted the virus in quarantine facilities, as the authorities failed to enforce safety measures, including social distancing and not sharing cutlery, and dispensing tea from shared dispensers without using gloves.
In nearly all facilities, staff seemed unaware that people would be quarantined there and some were exposed to infection in the facilities. At the Lenana school facility in Nairobi, a 29-year-old staff member who later tested positive for Covid-19 said he was not informed when the facility received its first batch of people for quarantine on March 24. He was then made to quarantine there himself. The staff member said:
“They arrived at 1a.m. and since I am the one who was at the gate, I checked them in and showed them where to sleep. No one bothered to tell me who they were. After I finished, my boss told me to join them in quarantine since I had been exposed."
Failure to Allow Self-Quarantining for People at Risk
Despite the protocol allowing those with preexisting conditions or pregnant women to self-quarantine at home, researchers found that facilities admitted pregnant women or people with diabetes and hypertension. At risk people or people with disabilities were held for several days at Kenyatta University Conference Centre before they were released or transferred to other facilities following complaints.
At Busia’s Kisoko Girls High school, on May 1, police and county health officials forcefully quarantined a 35-year-old woman, Carolyne Akumu, together with her one-month old baby for breaching the curfew, contrary to quarantine protocol. In another incident on the same day, police and county enforcement staff forcefully quarantined a pregnant woman at the same facility in Busia for violating curfew, even though guidelines have included pregnant women among the vulnerable that should not be quarantined.
Extensions of the Quarantine Period
Some of those interviewed said that government officials extended the quarantine beyond the initial 14 days for another 14 days or for indefinite time periods whenever someone in the same quarantine facility tested positive for the virus. People interviewed who were quarantined in KITI, the Kenya School of Government and Kenyatta University Conference Centre, said they suspected that the extensions of quarantine periods could have been out of the knowledge that there was a failure to enforce social distancing or provide protective equipment inside the facility. In any case, the unsanitary conditions in the facilities may have contributed to continuing exposure to the virus and thus extension of the quarantine. In other instances, the authorities also extended the stay for people who could not pay the cost of quarantine, even though some arriving travelers were promised that government facilities would be free.
A 29-year-old man who had been in quarantine at Kenya Water Institute in Nairobi said he was transferred to the Kenyatta University Hospital for isolation after he tested positive for Covid-19. After seven days in isolation, he said he was told he would be allowed to go home but in fact was held six days more because he could not pay the quarantine and isolation costs.
The indefinite extensions caused anxiety in those quarantined, ranging from fear of losing their jobs or delay in seeing loved ones. One interviewee said:
“I don’t have money because I had lost my job in Dubai, but I am now in forced quarantine in a government facility. We had been told quarantine would be 14 days and free, but I have been here 30 days. I have twice tested negative since I arrived, yet I am still here, and I have to pay Ksh 2,000 (US$20) for each day I have spent here.”
A 28-year-old man who was at Pride Inn hotel in Nairobi quarantined together with his family of four said he was told at the end of 14 days he had to pay Ksh 420,000 ($4,200) for himself and four other family members to leave. The authorities extended their stay by another 14 days after someone in their facility tested positive.“I called relatives who chipped in, but I am not sure how I am going to pay for the extended period.”
At Kenyatta University, four men who had tested negative after two tests on the eighth and twelfth day, were to have been allowed to go home on the 14th day. But, since they could not pay, the authorities held them for an additional eight days, a total of 22 days. The men were so distraught that they threatened to take their own lives, following which they were allowed to leave.
Lack of Adequate Medical Care, Counseling
Those who tested positive for Covid-19 said that the authorities transferred them to isolation wards at various hospitals where they did not receive any medical care. They told researchers they felt neglected by hospital staff and Health Ministry officials who did not make any attempts to manage the virus or provide them with medication.
A 34-year-old man who had been admitted at Kenyatta University hospital after he tested positive said he was forced to send for painkillers and lemons outside the hospital after he got a headache. A 35-year-old woman who tested positive and was admitted at Mbagathi hospital said the hospital only provided her with food and water, but no medication during the eight days she was in an isolation ward.
The authorities did not provide psychosocial counselling or mental health services for people in quarantine, though one person died by committing suicide and five others attempted to take their own lives. Media reported how on May 27, staff at KITI found the body of a 27-year-old South African, Elizabeth Holloway, who had been forcefully quarantined there, hanging from the ceiling of her room with a piece of cloth.
Two people who quarantined with her told researchers that she had called management the day before about the unsanitary conditions there and asked to be transferred, but that the management had ignored her pleas.
Two days after Holloway took her own life, a Kenyan woman at the same facility attempted suicide. A 22-year-old man who was in the facility told researchers:
“There were no counselors, and so those of us who were there with her started talking to her until she dropped the idea of committing suicide.”
Insensitivity in Testing, Communicating Results
Those who tested positive said the testing, management, and communication of results lacked transparency and failed to meet the required professional standards. Most said they were told their results verbally, by an unidentified person calling them by phone, and never given lab results. A 32-year-old man admitted at Kenyatta University hospital at the end of March said the hospital staff became hostile when he requested documentary evidence of the lab results.
A medical practitioner admitted at Mbagathi hospital said the hospital staff ignored his repeated requests for lab results. Another medical practitioner recalled:
“They told me it was positive but didn’t show me any paper. It was always a verbal communication… It was that way the whole time… no documentary evidence. Many people were not convinced they were being told the right results.”
Many of those who tested positive also told researchers that the insensitive way officials relayed results and lack of information about what would happen to them caused them enormous stress and anxiety.
Most people interviewed said that quarantine facility staff treated them poorly. A 36-year-old woman who attempted suicide at KITI in Nakuru said:
“I got a panic attack after one of our colleagues committed suicide. I called for help, but the doctor just laughed at me.”
People at the facility told researchers that the surrounding community and many of the staff at the facility would reject their money when they tried to buy food, on suspicion the money was contaminated. A 29-year-old man who had been quarantined there said:
“We didn’t have food inside the facility. We wanted to buy food from vendors over the fence, but they would decline our money. Staff who we thought would help would also not take money from us. We would wait for one nurse who would accept to help buy for us food from outside, but we had to send the money to her via mobile money.”
At one quarantine centre, interviewees said, on occasion kitchen staff declined to serve those in quarantine, compelling a security guard to bring the food. At a hospital in Nakuru, a 34-year-old woman who had been admitted there pending Covid-19 testing said that hospital staff avoided her even after she tested negative. She said:
“They would not talk to me. They would drop meals at the floor at the entrance of my ward and run away without telling me. I would discover the food cold on the floor at the door, sometimes hours later.”
THE FCAEA JOINS THE NATION MEDIA GROUP IN CONDEMNING POLICE BRUTALITY DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK
By FCAEA - 30 March 2020
The Foreign Correspondents' Association of East Africa joins the Nation Media Group (NMG) in condemning acts of police brutality against journalists covering the COVID-19 outbreak and reporting during the subsequent countrywide curfew.
We are concerned about the assault of NMG journalist Peter Wainaina by police on March 28, 2020, hours before the curfew began. The attack violated Kenya's constitutional protections of the media and contradicted the government's recognition that journalists were permitted to report during the curfew as essential workers.
Now, more than ever it's critical that reporters be allowed to do their jobs safely. We join our colleagues in condemning these attacks on members of the media by government officials.
Read the NMG’s full statement below.