Kisumu residents’ pain as bilharzia strikes

swollen stomach

A fisherman at Ombaka Dispensary, Kisumu County on December 23, 2022. Kisumu County health department has confirmed that several fishermen in Nyando have been diagnosed with bilharzia. 

Photo credit: Elizabeth Ojina | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The symptoms include vomiting blood, fatigue, and blood in the urine and stool.
  • The most vivid symptom is the protrusion of the belly.

For weeks now, Kakola Ombaka and Ogenya residents in Nyando, Kisumu County, have been exhibiting symptoms of a rare disease. 

The affected people live around the shores of Lake Victoria. County health officials suspect the rare illness to be a waterborne disease.

The symptoms include vomiting blood, fatigue, and blood in the urine and stool. 

But the most vivid symptom is the protrusion of the belly. Health officials from Kisumu County have already collected samples from 17 people for testing. Fishermen supporting themselves with walking sticks can be seen going to Ombaka Dispensary for treatment. 

Here, Mr George Otieno, a fisherman from Singida Beach also exhibits an extended tummy. He has since suspended fishing to seek treatment.

"My stomach has been protruding for months, I feel fever and there are blood stains in my stool," said Mr Otieno. 

Mr Zachariah Odhiambo, another fisherman, has been experiencing similar symptoms for the last nine months. 

"On some occasions, I am too weak to go fishing,” he said.

However, Kisumu County Director of Public Health Liliana Dayo told Nation.Africa tests carried out on samples revealed that most patients were suffering from Schistosomiasis, commonly known as bilharzia.

Ms Dayo said that of the eight samples taken from Ogenya Beach, Nyando, four had bilharzia. 

"Samples were collected on Wednesday and were taken to Ahero Sub County Hospital. Some of the fishermen had bilharzia and were already on treatment," she said. 

On Thursday, nine people with similar symptoms went to Ombaka Dispensary for treatment.  

"Our clinicians are doing the examination assessment to collect specimens for further analysis. We have also instructed our community health volunteers to sensitise the community about the dangers of bilharzia," she said.

Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic worms.

The parasitic worms affect the intestines and the urinary system. But if it is in the blood vessels it can affect other body organs such as the liver and kidney.

If the patient fails to get treatment, the disease can damage internal organs. 

Ms Dayo said that bilharzia is one of the neglected tropical diseases that can easily be treated. 

The Acting County Director for Public Health has asked the locals, especially fishermen, to wear appropriate fishing gear to protect themselves from the worms. 

"They need to wear shoes to bar the worms from penetrating their skin," she said.