At least nine dead, over 80 ill as strange illness ravages a location in Marsabit

A sign near Acher's Post in Isiolo County shows the distance to Marsabit and Moyale. A strange illness is ravaging Kargi location in Marsabit County.

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

At least nine people have been confirmed dead as more than 80 others are seriously ailing from an unknown illness in Kargi Location, Marsabit County.

According to Kargi Senior Chief Moses Galoro, the nine succumbed to the disease and preliminary tests indicated the possibility of a violent malaria.

“We have lost nine people so far and at least 80 others are bedridden in the villages in connection to a mysterious disease outbreak. I appeal for an urgent intervention by all stakeholders before we lose the entire population,” Mr Galoro said.

The latest fatality was witnessed by the Nation on Wednesday morning at Kargi Health Centre when a young man aged 23 years, breathed his last.

Chief Galoro explained that out of the nine people who have died, six were adults and three children between one and three years.

The adults were male herders except for one woman of about 60 years of age.

The administrator further noted that the affected persons had a travel history out of Marsabit County after coming from satellite camps in Archers Post and Merille areas.

Mr Galoro also called on the county and national government to rush to contain the disease outbreak.

Out of the 27 patients who were screened, only five tested positive for malaria.

The disease was first reported about two weeks ago and has continued to cause havoc in the region.

The administrator appealed for an urgent virology test and mass screening of the residents to establish the exact cause of the deaths and to avert further fatalities.

According to a medic who spoke to the Nation under anonymity, most of the affected persons exhibited flu-like symptoms, yellow eyes, and severe headaches.

The physician explained that the latest victim who succumbed to the unknown disease exhibited flu-like symptoms, swollen spleen, severe headache, and yellowish eyes which he said were akin to Kalazar.

He said that the patient tested positive for violent malaria and added that Kalazar could not be ruled out.

The recent outbreak comes against the backdrop of a team from Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), the Ministry of Health, and the Division for National Malaria Programme (DNMP) have pitched a camp in Marsabit to study the behavioural adaptation of the newly detected mosquito vector to insecticide control.

According to Kemri's internal memo seen by the Nation, the Kemri Entomology Research team together with their colleagues from the Ministry of Health’s DNMP detected a new dangerous mosquito vector in Kenya on December 22, 2022.

The detection was made during routine mosquito surveillance in different counties across Kenya where a new malaria vector is known as Anopheles stephensi in Saku and Laisamis sub-counties in Marsabit where the samples were detected and confirmed through a laboratory at KEMRI.

The report until the detection of Anopheles Stephensi was known to occur and spread malaria in South-East Asia, the Middle East, and the Arabian Peninsula.

The mosquito species has been expanding its geographic range over the last decade, with detections being reported in Djibouti (2012), Ethiopia, Sudan (2016), Somalia (2019), and Nigeria (2020).

The severity of the suspected malaria outbreak in the Kargi location has also been exacerbated by the dilapidated state and impassibility of a section of the Kargi-Marsabit feeder road which has been deteriorated by the ongoing heavy rains in the region.

The journey that previously lasted for only one and a half hours can take even up to five hours due to the sorry state of the road.

A section of locals, clergy, businesspeople, humanitarian agencies and even the area members of the county assembly have decried the sorry state of the 77-kilometre stretch of the road from Kargi to Marsabit town.

A matatu operator along the Kargi -Marsabit road Abdullahi Guroya detailed how they were stranded in the Kambinye area after the road was cut off by floods forcing them to camp for three days as they waited for the waters to recede.

He decried the high cost of living as the impassability of the road had continued to aggravate the burdens of inflation the residents were grappling with.

Similar sentiments were echoed by businessman Peter Kulmiche who held that businesses were severely paralysed by the poor infrastructure in the area.

The hardest hit populace were expectant women and patients who needed an urgent referral to Marsabit Referral Hospital for specialized medication.

Marawato Mifo, a mother of four, from Kargi area narrated how a child aged about three years died of the suspected malaria outbreak three days ago, after an ambulance that was called from Marsabit town was unable to reach the Kargi shopping centre.

The driver was stranded for two days only to reach out to the patient who had already got overwhelmed and who later passed on on the way to Marsabit town.

She added that an expectant mother also experienced a miscarriage two weeks ago after she was unable to get timely interventions when she was supposed to get referred to Marsabit Referral Hospital.

Local authorities, residents, and humanitarian agencies in Marsabit have appealed for expedited containment of an unknown illness that has led to the death of 9 people in the Kargi location.

Development and Humanitarian worker with Caritas Marsabit Gabriel Gambare expressed his frustration with the sorry state of the road saying that the humanitarian agencies in the region were also affected while delivering relief aid in the region.

He called on the national and county government to heed to the appeals and hearty cries of the residents of Kargi who depended on the road.

Similar lamentations were echoed by Kargi Catholic Parish Priest Thomas Komote who was saddened by the plight of the residents who had just come out of a devastating drought that left them without any source of livelihood.

He stated that the sorry state of the road also aggravated inflation, security risks and development stagnation in the area.

Kargi MCA Christopher Ogom wondered why the road that served Marsabit town, Kargi, Olturot, Mt Kulala, South Horr and even the famous Lake Turkana wind power project had not been upgraded for the last six years.

He demanded that the road be reclassified to fall under Kenya Roads Authority (KeRA) in contrast to the current classification of belonging to the county government.

He claimed that the current impassability of the road affected over 10,000 residents of the Laisamis sub-county.

He also took issues with the county government for utterly failing in their mandate to supply all the health facilities in the county with adequate drugs.

He held that the reported deaths and ailments in Kargi were contributed by the refusal of the residents to visit the only public health centre as they knew that it was tantamount to a waste of time.

He held that the health facility lacked even the basic drugs such as Panadol and rapid test kits.

He blamed Governor Mohamud Ali for failing to respond to his appeal concerning the disease outbreak in the region.

He also poked holes in the Ministry of Health for failing to take full control of the health sector and delegating all the responsibility to the county governments that have proved to lack a strong grip in the sector.

 He expressed his disappointment with the mismanagement and misplaced priority by the county government which had continually seen acute drug shortages of drugs in the devolved functions.

“When we devolved some functions we thought the devolution system would come with solutions to the ordinary wananchi but what we are witnessing today is sheer misplacement of priorities even in the management of critical functions such as health,”Mr Ogom said.