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Death of Kenyan nurse raises questions



It was a short marriage.

That is what Stephen Okal Oketch says following the death of his wife – a nurse from Homa Bay County who had the coronavirus and who had just given birth to their first child.

Theatre nurse Marianne Awuor from Rachuonyo died on Sunday, two weeks after giving birth to a healthy baby, while on oxygen support.

Awuor, 32, and Mr Okal got married in a ceremony last December at Jabali Country Resort. They had been married for exactly seven months.

She was born on July 24, the same date as that of her first born child’s birth.

Mr Okal, the fifth born in a family of nine, was beside himself with grief when the Nation visited their home at Nyandang’e village in Kasipul division on Monday.

He said his wife booked a cake a month ago to celebrate their child’s birth as well as her birthday but her admission to hospital prevented this

“I will collect the cake after her burial, which is scheduled for Friday, and celebrate with the rest of the family,” said the 33-year-old, whose birthday is on July 22.


Awuor’s death has exposed deficiencies in county hospitals when it comes to handling Covid-19 patients as it emerged she was moved to Kisii County Teaching and Referral Hospital because of lack of specialists in her home county.

Earlier, the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) claimed the patient had not been reviewed by any specialist since her admission at KTRH yet she needed intensive care.

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The nurse contracted the coronavirus at 33 weeks of pregnancy and gave birth normally.

She was found infected on July 20 and had symptoms including difficulty breathing, a cough and chills, but she had also tested negative three times.

“She was first tested at Rachuonyo hospital but her results were negative. At Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, she tested positive on July 20 then we insisted on another test which we both took. The results were negative. After giving birth, she and our son were tested and the results were negative. A final test on Sunday brought negative results,” Mr Okal said.

Kisii County Public Health Director Richard Onkware said one of Awuor’s lungs collapsed due to the virus and that this was what caused her death.


Awuor’s family said her condition worsened last Friday.

Mr Okal and his father, Barack Oketch Amwata, have faulted the KTRH, saying medics neglected her when they learned she was infected.

“Doctors and nurses at KTRH are on a go-slow because they have not received their salaries. Our patient was left unattended from Friday last week with our newborn left to feed on air,” Mr Okal claimed, adding he was devastated when he visited his wife but found her in an abandoned ward.

Mr Amwata said that getting information from the facility was an uphill task.

“Nobody was willing to attend to her. We were not even informed of her transfer from ICU to the Covid-19 isolation facility.”

Mr Amwata further said they were not officially informed that Awuor had tested positive and were updated by a nurse who saw them in agony.

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“We met the official incharge of KTRH, Dr Enoch Ondari, only two days ago. Before that, it was very difficult to get information from the hospital that is supposed to be a referral facility,” said Mr Amwata.

He asked the government to investigate the case.

“I do not want any other person to undergo what we have been subjected to. Patients deserve care and their kin deserve to be treated with dignity,” he said, adding counselling would have helped.

County Health executive Sarah Omache denied the reports of neglect at the Kisii facility.


Awuor had been a theatre nurse for almost a year. Rachuonyo was her first posting and she had worked there in different departments since 2014.

Her boss, Dr Stephen Okello, said she loved her job.

“I am a surgeon. We worked together in the theatre. She loved her job and attended to her patients with passion,” he said, adding they would help the family with burial plans.

Following Awuor’s death, Mr Okal moved their son to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga hospital in Kisumu.

“He is still in the incubator. This is for feeding purposes  …  he is being fed via pipes,” he said, adding his wife left him a “wonderful gift”.

The child weighed 1.7 kilograms at birth and 1.85 kilograms at the time of being transferred from KTRH.

“My wife was headed for the theatre for delivery through a cesarean section but she insisted on delivering the normal way,” Mr Okal said, describing her as a loving, hardworking, intelligent and development-conscious woman.

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“Even while expectant, she attended to emergencies at the Rachuonyo theatre,” said the trader based in Oyugis town.


Earlier on Monday, health workers in Homa Bay downed their tools accusing the county of exposing them to the virus by failing to hire specialists for the ICU and other departments.

Kevin Osuri, Nyanza chair of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) and the county’s KMPDU Liaison Officer Amos Dulo said it does not have staff to handle critical cases.

“We have not heard a statement from the government about the death of our colleague. We are working in dangerous environments and are declaring Homa Bay a hostile place to work,” Dr Osuri said.

Dr Dulo said an ICU at the county referral hospital was not operational because of the lack of specialised medics.

The Homa Bay health department said it was waiting for a medical report from the Kisii hospital to ascertain the cause of Awuor’s death.

The Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) asked the county to provide nurses with enough personal protective equipment (PPEs) to minimise their chances of getting infected.

Secretary George Bola said medical workers at public hospitals were grappling with a shortage of PPEs.

“The government has provided us with PPEs but they are not enough. We ask for more to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” he said.

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First man cured of HIV dies of cancer



The first person to be cured of HIV, Timothy Ray Brown — known as the “Berlin Patient” — has died after a battle with cancer, the International Aids Society (IAS) announced Wednesday.

Brown made medical history and became a symbol of hope for the tens of millions of people living with the virus that causes AIDS when he was cured more than a decade ago.

He had been living with a recurrence of leukaemia for several months and received hospice care at his home in Palm Springs, California.

“On behalf of all its members… the IAS sends its condolences to Timothy’s partner, Tim, and his family and friends,” said IAS President Adeeba Kamarulzaman.

“We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Hutter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible.”

Brown was diagnosed with HIV while was studying in Berlin in 1995. A decade later, he was diagnosed with leukaemia, a cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow.

To treat his leukaemia, his doctor at the Free University of Berlin used a stem cell transplant from a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that gave him natural resistance to HIV, hoping it may wipe out both diseases.

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It took two painful and dangerous procedures, but it was a success: in 2008 Brown was declared free of the two ailments, and was initially dubbed “the Berlin Patient” at a medical conference to preserve his anonymity.

Two years later, he decided to break his silence and went on to become a public figure, giving speeches and interviews and starting his own foundation.

“I am living proof that there could be a cure for AIDS,” he told AFP in 2012. “It’s very wonderful, being cured of HIV.”


Ten years after Brown was cured, a second HIV sufferer — dubbed “the London Patient” — was revealed to be in remission 19 months after undergoing a similar procedure.

The patient, Adam Castillejo, is currently HIV-free. In August a California woman was reported to have no traces of HIV despite not using anti-retroviral treatment.

It is thought she may be the first person to be cured of HIV without undergoing the risky bone marrow treatment.

Sharon Lewin, president-elect of the IAS and director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, praised Brown as a “champion and advocate” of a cure for HIV.

“It is the hope of the scientific community that one day we can honour his legacy with a safe, cost-effective and widely accessible strategy to achieve HIV remission and curs using gene edition or techniques that boost immune control,” she said.

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Kenyans in US grapple with Covid-19 woes



His conspicuous Kenyan name, Kariuki, is what gave him out and attracted the attention of a handful of compatriots working at the Philadelphia international airport.

Recently, staff at the airport woke up to news that scores of homeless people had been rounded up by the airport police and the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Among them was Kariuki (first name withheld for privacy reasons), a Days later, the Nation located Mr Kariuki in a shelter for homeless people on Island Avenue in South Philadelphia.

Mr Kariuki, originally from Nakuru County in Kenya’s Rift Valley, came to the US as an undergrad student at Temple university in Philadelphia five years ago.

“My mom, a hawker in Nakuru, raised the initial $10,000 for my tuition and that could only last me a semester and a half. Fortunately, I got a part-time job at the library in college but I still had to work at a local grocery store in the evenings and play drums for my church on Sundays where I was paid $100 every Sunday. Things were okay until Covid-19,” said Mr Kariuki.

A combination of photos of counsellor and clinical consultant Abel Oriri, who is based in Cleveland, Ohio; Geoffrey Chepkwony, who died in August in Texas, US; and David Bulindah, a clinical counsellor based in Seattle, Washington.

When, towards the end of March, the state of Pennsylvania shut down everything including education institutions, hotels and shops — and restricted movement, his world came tumbling down.

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“My roommate, in whose name our apartment was registered cancelled the lease and returned to Memphis, Tennessee to his family. For almost three months, I lived in my car. It was hard to find food. The nights were cold. I started developing regular panic attacks that left me feeling like I was going crazy!” he said.

So bad were the panic attacks that police found him at the busy intersection between Island Avenue and Lindberg shouting at motorists and trying to stop them.

“I cannot remember doing this,” he says, although he describes himself at the time as “stressed, depressed and contemplating suicide”.

Psychiatric help

One day, he woke up in some psychiatric facility in West Chester and was told he had been there for three weeks.

“I was totally confused, and heavily sedated. I had nowhere to go but at least I knew I had to leave that place,” he says

Mr Kariuki finally went to the airport because one of his classmates was working at an eatery that had remained open. His friend would occasionally give him a fresh meal and, at least at the airport, he’d enjoy heating during spring and cold air in summer. That was where the authorities found him and other homeless people who they took to shelters.

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Mr Kariuki’s story is unfortunately now just one of the many familiar stories of Kenyans living abroad — made worse by the pandemic.

“It’s of course true to say that Covid-19 has led to a significant increase and demand for mental health intervention due to anxiety and depression. In fact, recent research indicates that more than 53 per cent of adults in the US have reported that their mental health had negatively been impacted directly,” said Kenyan-born counsellor and clinical consultant, Abel Oriri based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Recently, Kenyans in Houston, Texas, were shocked by the death of Geoffrey Chepkwony, who is thought to have committed suicide after his body was found on the streets. He was said to have been struggling with mental health problems. The Kenyan community in the US, led by those in Texas, has been raising the money needed to ship his remains home following a passionate appeal from his mother in Kenya.

Another high-profile case is that of the first Kenyan-born National Football League player, Daniel Adongo, who later fell from grace. His worrying state was depicted in a video clip widely shared online. His family later said they had sought help for him. Coronavirus seems to have exacerbated social and health issues like homelessness, depression and domestic violence, among others.

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Support groups

Mr Oriri, who is also a pastor, says most of his clients now describe feelings of depression, anxiety, worry, stress, loneliness, poor appetite, suicidal thoughts and isolation.

“Many report difficulties sleeping, eating, increased alcohol consumption and substance use. Worsening chronic conditions from worry, depression, and stress over Covid-19.

The anger management and domestic violence groups that I have been providing for more than 20 years have surged one hundred percent in enrollment since the pandemic began,” he said in a recent interview.

David Bulindah, a Kenyan Pastoral and Clinical Counsellor based in Seattle, Washington, said the usually structured life of Kenyans in the US was recently disrupted without warning by the coronavirus.

“Most people could not leave their job and or could not go to their second job. For someone who had been enjoying consistent income to suddenly lose all that, stress, anxiety and depression thus kicks in”. he said.

Mr. Bulindah says that the Kenyan community will only deal with these issues if it opens up and discusses mental health and homelessness candidly without pre-judging those affected.

“People should know that it’s okay to lose a job and it’s okay to experience mental health problems. Those affected should not isolate themselves rather, reach out for help,” he said.


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KNH strike claims its first victim



A man died at the parking lot of Kenya’s largest referral hospital where a strike by 5,000 workers paralysed operations on Monday.

The boda boda rider was taken to the hospital by his friends following an accident.

But the management of the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) insisted the patient was in a critical state and that his death was not due to negligence.

Dr Stanley Kamau, a board member at KNH, said the hospital and staff were not to blame for the death.

The strike disrupted services at the hospital and left patients unattended. The striking employees are protesting a delay to effect a pay rise totaling Sh601 million.

Some families were forced to move unattended patients from the hospital as members of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions and Hospital Workers (Kudheiha), the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), and the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) commenced their strike.

Workers’ demands

The workers are demanding implementation of resolutions from the State Corporation Advisory Committee, which upgraded the hospital’s parastatal status from 3C to 7A in 2012.

Following the reclassification, all KNH staff were to benefit from enhanced pay but it has never been effected.

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Some workers went on strike late last year, prompting a return-to-work formula with management to end the boycott.

But the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) has said the formula is not a basis for demanding a review of remuneration, arguing it’s not fiscally sustainable and will distort the salary structure in the sector.

SRC has asked the referral to retain the current pay structure as it awaits a job evaluation that will inform the remuneration review cycle for 2021/22 to 2014/25.

KNUN Secretary-General Seth Panyako said members were not interested in the job evaluation and wanted their salaries adjusted as the matter had been approved by Parliament.

“We want SRC to write to the CEO giving authorisation for payment because we know the money is there. We will not go back to work until we get the money,” Mr Panyako stated.

SRC the ‘obstacle’

KMPDU’s acting Secretary-General Chibanzi Mwachonda claims SRC is the only obstacle and it is frustrating health workers in the public sector.

The hospital’s chief executive officer in a letter to SRC yesterday said KNH will ensure the Sh601 million budgeted for in the 2020/21 financial year is paid in October.

In a letter dated February 12, 2013, to then Finance Principal Secretary, KNH detailed the breakdown of the salaries from the CEO to the lowest Job Group K16/17.

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The lowest basic salary for the hospital CEO was set at Sh400,000, while the maximum had been capped at Sh560,000. House allowance was to be between Sh60,000 and Sh80,000.

While the CEO’s basic salary was settled at Sh400,000, that of the lowest worker was set at Sh17, 535.


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