When Covid-19 struck the county in March last year, Nicholas Otieno, a paramedic nurse at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH ) isolation Center did not know he will spend most of his time in the hospital and not with his family.
In the beginning, he says he had to work for almost a month without seeing a single member of his family.
For the past one year now, he says he has not visited his relatives and friends since he categories himself as a source of infection.
He is among several uncelebrated frontline workers who have placed their lives on the line to save Covid-19 patients as the pandemic continues to take a toll on residents.
In Kisumu, he is among the only four paramedics that have been helping patients in public facilities. The shortage of personnel has meant that they have to work extra hours to save patients.
And with the new strains of Covid-19 hitting Kisumu hard, Otieno’s work has just gotten harder as the flow of patients triples. Almost every day he has to board an ambulance to rescue patients in emergency situations.
“It has not been easy. The thoughts of going back home always put me in distress because I know I am always at risk of contracting the virus,” he says.
When K24 Digital caught up with him at the Nyanza region’s largest referral facility, the father of one had just made his second trip to the facility after they rescued a Covid-19 patient.
The father of one says it is stressful to be a frontline worker stating that at times in the estate his child cannot freely play with other children due to discrimination as their parents think that their children can be infected.
In the beginning, he says his family got traumatized thinking that he would die in the wards while taking care of the patients.
From the time the first case was identified in Kisumu up to now, he says he has attended to hundreds of Covid-19 patients and is expecting more as the numbers continue to increase day by day.
His worst experience he says was when he had to isolate himself early last year.
He has also seen patients losing their lives to the virus even after they struggle to keep them alive.
“What makes me work harder is to save lives and I really feel well when I see my patients improving and fighting for the disease until they get discharged,” he said.
He added that the number of his patients who have recovered from the disease are higher compared to those who succumbed.
The paramedic however says that the government does not appreciate their efforts in saving lives and the good work they are doing.
He also appealed to the government to increase their risk allowance and also provide them with health cover to protect them when they fall ill.
According to Dr George Rae, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) which is the main facility that handles all cases of referrals within the county and its neighbouring counties, they are the main response Center for severely ill patients.
He told K24 Digital that they have approximately 150 beds that can be at the disposal of Covid-19 stating that majority of the beds have oxygen spots that can deliver oxygen to the needy since Covid requires oxygen during treatment as the main drug together with other drugs that support the patient’s recovery.
“Currently, we are having approximately 60 patients but expecting more because of the 3rd wave, “he said.
According to him, the third wave is driven by the delta virus which is easily transmittable not only through contamination but also through droplets infections.
The CEO disclosed to us that despite Kisumu recording high numbers, they are facing a number of challenges including an inappropriate ratio of health manpower to the sick.
“We have less manpower compared to the sick people making it easy for the health personnel to have burned out and also the risk of the health manpower infecting themselves and going for isolation is also on the rise,” said the CEO.
At JOOTRH, there are two isolation sites that respond to Covid-19 patients.
The CEO admitted that indeed paramedics are doing a tremendous job sacrificing to save lives but unfortunately in the process, they get infected.
He said that the heroes need psychosocial counselling, treatment, recognition and also needs to be rewarded.
The CEO appealed to Kisumu residents to turn out in large numbers and pick their kins who are lying in the mortuary stating that they are currently experiencing full mortuary with lots of bodies.
“We are appealing for those people who have bodies of their friends and relatives in the mortuary to come to take them and bury them within the next one day as per Governor Anyang Nyong’os directives, “he said.
The biggest fight for Covid-19 he said relies on personal effort saying that one has to be vigilant to ensure that they follow strictly the ministry of health directives.
“We need to have everybody take a declaration that from now henceforth they are going to be soldiers fighting against Covid-19 and encouraging relatives and friends to follow the suit. With this, I believe that within two months we will bring Covid down and we may escape the 4th wave which is coming,” he said.
According to Fred Oluoch, the Kisumu County Director of health, health workers have been at the forefront to ensure patients /clients are safe and reach the required destination for appropriate care as most of them work 24/7 without extra compensation.
He says the paramedics work at odd hours which is a risk to their health and spend most of their time away from their families.
He told People Daily that the paramedics at times lack airtime, inaccurate information about the location of patients, lack of fuel and bad mechanical bad roads as they go about their daily work.
In Kisumu, Oluoch says there are only 4 paramedics, 21 ambulances and 27 drivers.
“These drivers require further intensive training to become ambulance operators and they go through training first,” he said.
A Covid 19 victim who did not want to be mentioned for fear of victimisation, narrated to us how his family strived to find her a bed at the Agha Khan hospital in Kisumu but all was in vain even after raising the ksh300,000 that was needed for his care treatment after they were informed by the hospital administration that all beds were full.
While writhing in pain, they had to find an alternative and by God’s grace, he got admitted at Nightingale hospital in Milimani after paying ksh100,000 where he was driven to the facility on an ambulance after paying another ksh3500.
He pleaded with Kisumu residents to take precautions warning them that the disease is real and that is now claiming more lives than before.
“Before you attend any party, ask yourself if your family is capable of raising huge amounts of money because of your carelessness during this hard economic times,” he said.
With tears in his eyes, he said he thought he would die after seeing at least two people succumbing to the disease.