According to data extracted from the National Registry of Diseases, since the outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus in Kenya, there has been a sharp rise in the cases of pneumonia reported across the country.
The most worrying bit about this statistic is that the illness is one of the complications associated with severe cases of COVID-19.
From January up until early February, the number of pneumonia cases was at 137,667 before a dramatic increase to 195,504. While the data for March is not complete, local daily reports that their source at the Ministry of Health suspects that the numbers are still increasing. The pattern — an increase from January and then a plateau — is not similar for the same period in 2019.
In their discussions, local experts have been careful not to prematurely link it to Coronavirus, but still, hold strong suspicions that patients might be dying of COVID-19 related pneumonia whilst receiving treatment for the normal bacterial pneumonia.
If this is the case, they argue, then it may have began way earlier before the first Coronavirus case was reported in the country; adding that early rains of 2020 might also have influenced the abnormal spike.
Further, the massive attention that has been given to the Chinese Virus has resulted in little or no focus being given to pneumonia and other infectious diseases.
Responding to the news of up to 17 children who recently died in Kilifi County, Dr. Jeremiah Chakaya, a practicing respiratory physician of the Respiratory Society of Kenya, has cautioned health practitioners that from now on, any case of pneumonia should be treated as suspected COVID-19 until proven to be ordinary pneumonia.
He added that it is very difficult to differentiate between COVID-19 and pneumonia given their similar symptoms the two respiratory infections share, including, cough, fever, difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath.
Pneumonia remains Kenya’s number one child killer and claimed 21,584 in 2017 alone.
So far, there are few cases to distinguish whether pneumonia is caused by a virus or bacteria in Kenya’s public hospitals, where the majority of the population seeks medical services.
Experts say it is possible that there could be more deaths in children because pneumonia is being given little attention but told parents not to be quick in labeling any pneumonia as COVID-19.
After multiple children died of severe pneumonia in a span of three weeks, Kilifi county government urged parents to take children exhibiting respiratory illnesses, especially pneumonia, to hospitals.
Kilifi Hospital Medical Superintendent, Eddie Nzomo, said the county is working with the Kenya Medical Research Institute Wellcome Trust to increase screening for the disease.