What killed Kenyans, Africans in 2020?

An estimated 500,808 Kenyans died last year, 1,700 of them due to Covid 19.

However the Kenya Economic Survey 2021 published last week shows only 184.185 or 37 per cent of the deaths were  registered against an expected half a million deaths.

While the economic survey no longer categorizes deaths by cause it shows respiratory infections, pneumonia and malaria as the leading causes of illnesses in Kenya.

Last year there were 60 million recorded hospital visits in the country, 16 million due to upper airway infections, and 13 million to malaria.

During the period 96,000 cases of Covid 19 had been positively diagnosed resulting to a much smaller number of hospitalizations.

“The number of confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19 in Kenya were much lower compared to other African countries during the year under review,” says the survey.

Despite the low Covid 19 cases and deaths recorded in 2020 in Kenya, the disease was responsible for a 28 million drop in hospital visits during the year.

In 2020 there were 60 million hospital visits compared to about 88 million in 2019. The drop has been blamed on Covid 19 related issues.

Similar data and conclusions for Sub-Saharan Africa were recently published by a team of scientists from the US and Denmark.

In a preprint posted last week (10th September 2021) on medRxiv the team of David Bell and Kristian Schultz Hansen join emerging critics of Africans response to the pandemic.

In their paper, they compare the actual clinical disease burden and deaths from Covid 19 in Sub-Saharan African to HIV, malaria and TB.

Using publicly available data they report 659.737 deaths from HIV, 401,584 from Tuberculosis, 384,403 from malaria compared to 77.463 deaths from Covid 19 in 2020 in the region (see chart).

“Our analysis suggests a relatively low impact from Covid 19 in Sub Sahara Africa,”  Based on this analysis they conclude that tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria remain far greater health priorities in the region.

Resource diversion to Covid -19 therefore, the scientists say, runs a high risk of increasing the overall disease burden and causing net harm in the region.

Covid 19 intervention, such as the proposed mass vaccinations, the team say fails to put into context the severity and burden of the pandemic in Africa relative to other diseases.

“Mass vaccination of the sub-Saharan African population against Covid19, as is advocated in some quarters, will draw essential resources from interventions aimed at health problems with far greater burden.”

Consequently they suggest  COVID-19  related interventions in sub Saharan African populations be tailored to local need, based on its impact relative to other disease.

While scientists in the region agree Covid 19 is less severe in Africa relative to other regions, hardly any have suggested a locally appropriate mitigation approaches.

But this realization may be growing in some local circles: “It is time we returned our attention to some of these diseases that are even more devastating than Covid 19,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta while launching a malaria control project in July at Kenya’s Coast.

About Gatonye Gathura 125 Articles
Science Journalist

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