Dengue fever, chikungunya moving inland, say experts

Kemri Director-General Elijah Songok

Kemri Director-General Elijah Songok addresses journalists after commissioning the Centre of Excellence in Stem Cell Research Kemri Training Centre in Nairobi late last month

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Scientists have called for more collaboration between stakeholders in various sectors to deal with climate change and its effects on health.

The experts in the health and environment sector said global warming is contributing to major health problems and emerging diseases in the country and globally, calling for integrated approaches to curb the challenges.

Speaking during the Second Health and Climate Conference in Diani, Kwale County, Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) director-general Elijah Songok highlighted that research has already shown evidence that climate change is a serious threat to public health.

“It’s important to look at the intersection between health and climate change. It is evident that we have reached a point where the outcomes of these intersections can no longer be ignored or underestimated,” said Prof Songok.

He explained that there was a need to advance health care systems in a way that not only withstands the challenges posed by climate change, but also harnesses the potential of sustainable practices.

According to Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) East Africa regional director Prof Sam Kariuki, there has been an increase in infectious diseases as a result of climate change, posing a threat to human lives.

For instance, he explained,  dengue fever and chikungunya viruses that were previously known to be coastal were now spreading to the highlands.

“Rising global temperatures are encouraging the expansion of mosquito breeding grounds,” he said.

Other illnesses such as sleeping sickness, zoonotic diseases, respiratory diseases and cancer were also on the rise due to pollution and climate change.

Experts said such diseases will lead to a difficulty in achieving Sustainable Development Goals.

“This gives a challenge even to governments , as they start diverting attention to these emerging diseases when what was initially highlighted has not even been achieved, ” he said.

Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) chief executive James Njiru said the blue economy and fisheries sector also plays an important role in achieving Universal Health Care (UHC).

 “Fish constitute major components that help in fighting diseases and that is why we are working to ensure that the marine environment is conducive for the continued growth of fish,” Dr Njiru said.

 The conference comes as the country prepares to hold the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi next week.