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ABSTRACT Introduction The COVID-19 pandemic will test the capacity of health systems worldwide. Health systems will need surge capacity to absorb acute increases in caseload due to the pandemic. We assessed the capacity of the Kenyan health system to absorb surges in the number of people that will need hospitalization and critical care because of the COVID-19. Methods We 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. Results The 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. Conclusion Significant 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.

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