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IntroductionThe COVID-19 pandemic will test the capacity of health systems worldwide and especially so in low- and middle-income countries. The objective of this study was to assess the surge capacity of the Kenyan of the Kenyan health system in terms of general hospital and ICU beds in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.MethodsWe assumed that 2% of the Kenyan population get symptomatic infection by SARS-Cov-2 based on modelled estimates for Kenya and determined the health system surge capacity for COVID-19 under three transmission curve scenarios, 6, 12, and 18 months. We estimated four measures of hospital surge capacity namely: 1) hospital bed surge capacity 2) ICU bed surge capacity 3) Hospital bed tipping point, and 5) ICU bed tipping point. We computed this nationally and for all the 47 county governments.ResultsThe capacity of Kenyan hospitals to absorb increases in caseload due to COVID-19 is constrained by the availability of oxygen, with only 58% of hospital beds in hospitals with oxygen supply. There is substantial variation in hospital bed surge capacity across counties. For example, under the 6 months transmission scenario, the percentage of available general hospital beds that would be taken up by COVID-19 cases varied from 12% Tharaka Nithi county, to 145% in Trans Nzoia county. Kenya faces substantial gaps in ICU beds and ventilator capacity. Only 22 out of the 47 counties have at least 1 ICU unit. Kenya will need an additional 1,511 ICU beds and 1,609 ventilators (6 months transmission curve) to 374 ICU beds and 472 ventilators (18 months transmission curve) to absorb caseloads due to COVID-19.ConclusionSignificant gaps exist in Kenya's capacity for hospitals to accommodate a potential surge in caseload due to COVID-19. Alongside efforts to slow and supress the transmission of the infection, the Kenyan government will need to implement adaptive measures and additional investments to expand the hospital surge capacity for COVID-19. Additional investments will however need to be strategically prioritized to focus on strengthening essential services first, such as oxygen availability before higher cost investments such as ICU beds and ventilators.

Original publication





PloS one

Publication Date





Health Economics Research Unit, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Nairobi, Kenya.


Humans, Pneumonia, Viral, Coronavirus Infections, Ventilators, Mechanical, Hospital Bed Capacity, Intensive Care Units, Kenya, Surge Capacity, Pandemics, Betacoronavirus, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2