Scant Rains Escalate Cholera Outbreak in Kenya

Kenya is facing one of the worst cholera outbreaks in a decade and at least 122 people have died in the past month as a result of the epidemic sweeping across the east African nation.

According to the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, some 10,940 cases have been reported from the current outbreak, which began in December 2008, but nearly half (over 4,700) were reported in the past month alone.

More than half of the over 230 deaths, meanwhile, occurred in the past month.

In a cholera alert last week, the Public Health Ministry said it needs $7.5 million for medicine and testing kits.

"There is a shortage of cholera kits, and other essential medical supplies, rehydration supplies, antibiotics, gloves and other assorted supplies," reported Nicholas Wasunna, senior adviser to Christian humanitarian agency World Vision in Kenya.

"The disease is also spreading quickly due to the consistent movement of a highly nomadic population and unprotected water sources which are in the interior and inaccessible," he added.

World Vision, which is providing logistical support to Ministry of Health officials to enable them reach affected areas, reported that the areas of Katilia, Lokubae, Lokori, Kapedo and Morulem are at great risk of infection and the main challenge continues to be accessibility to affected people and areas as some of them are far flung and hard to reach.

World Vision's Thomas Okollah further reported that an urgent supply of medicine is required to help contain the disease in Turkana while also creating awareness to communities to help stop cholera from spreading.

"We urgently need drugs and medical supplies to be used in both static and mobile centers for out and in patients care. We also require extra vehicles and fuel to meet the demand of intensifying health education in all villages within the shortest time possible," Okollah said.

World Vision has helped set up several static and mobile treatment centers within and around Lokori, while also helping create awareness on the importance of good hygiene.

According to reports, the latest cholera outbreak has been attributed to the consumption of street food, poor toilet coverage, unsafe drinking water and poor hygiene.

Cholera, called kipindupindu in Kiswahili, is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with a bacterium known as Vibrio Cholerae.

Vibrio Cholerae has a short incubation period of less than one day to five days after which it causes profuse painless, watery diarrhea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given.

Vomiting also occurs in most patients.

Cholera can be prevented through provision of adequate safe drinking water, proper personal hygiene, food hygiene and hygienic disposal of human excreta.

Notably, however, the scant rains of drought-stricken Kenya have prompted many people – particularly in the slums – to resort to surviving off dirty, germ-infested water.

And some say the situation can only worsen as the end of the short rains could push water scarcity deep into next year.

In October, the Metrological Department had warned of the possible escalation of cholera and waterborne disease and advocated for sustained water chlorination campaigns.

Presently, medical experts are asking the government to weigh the possibility of introducing cholera vaccine to vulnerable groups.