“I have all the equipment of war — guns and everything plus control of all the police officers — but Covid-19 still hit me,” says Interior PS Dr Karanja Kibicho.
In a country where leaders seldom talk about their health matters, Dr Kibicho, who spent 15 days in a hospital bed after he contracted Covid-19, says the experience was humbling.
“If it gets the PS Interior, who can it not get?” he asks. “The truth is we are all human beings. We should not behave as if diseases are for Wanjiku. We are in a situation where a lot of people are in denial of the existence of the coronavirus and this is what is fuelling the spread.”
The engineer, who is arguably the most powerful PS in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration, says from his line of work, he had all along known he would one day catch the virus but when he got it, he couldn’t figure out from where.
“This is an airborne disease. The worst that can happen is trying to know where you got it from and apportion blame,” he says.
The PS is a member of the National Emergency Response Committee on the Coronavirus which meets every Monday. He also travels a lot across the country and meets with various people.
Before he was taken ill, he did a number of inspection tours in October covering Kisii, Tharaka Nithi, Lamu and Kiambu. All this while, he says, he followed the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health like he has always done since the start of the pandemic.
“I am one of those people who is always wearing a mask,” he says. “I live a fairly active life. I eat healthy, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke so when there is something wrong with my body I can tell. So when I felt a small irritation while sneezing, I felt in the first instance that it was time to go for testing.”
Although he didn’t have severe symptoms and could have been discharged after testing positive to recuperate at home, doctors decided to admit him as they did not want to take any chances.
And so for the first time, the PS, who says he has worked for 29 years without rest, found himself alone in a hospital bed with nothing to do apart from counting the hours.
“You know when the Health CS reads those numbers on TV every day, we rarely think they are actual people. Here I was feeling that I am actually part of those numbers. It is a very humbling feeling,” says Dr Kibicho.
“When you are sick in a room where you can’t leave until a doctor says so, you really reflect about your life a lot,” he says.
In order to live the days less painfully, the PS asked for books from his family. His favourite pastime was filling Sudoku puzzles from a book brought by his daughter.
He also had a treadmill installed in his hospital room and a mat for exercise. Interestingly, none of his aides turned out positive despite the fact that they usually spend entire days together either in the office, on the road or in events.
He admits that some of the people he had interacted with before testing positive did turn out to have the virus after being tracked down through contact tracing.
Now, having fully recovered and back to his workstation at the Interior ministry, Dr Kibicho says he has become more aware of his surroundings.
“Being in a hospital bed for 15 days is not a joke. Today whenever I see someone without a mask, I notice it very quickly. If people are not properly social distanced, I ask myself why they are so close. Why are they hugging?”
“I have very many friends and every week we are burying someone. Almost half of the people we are burying could have been Covid patients and they didn’t know. But unless we remove the stigma, we are still a long way from dealing with the virus,” he says.