Kemri calls for vaccines roll-out in cholera crisis

Cholera vaccine

Kemri wants vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organisation administered to stem a resurgence of cholera.

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A cholera outbreak is spreading at an alarming rate, prompting the Kenya Medical Research Institute ( Kemri) to ask the government to roll out a vaccination drive to curb infections.

Kemri wants vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) administered to stem a resurgence of cholera.

Last Thursday, the country recorded 109 new cases from eight counties, adding the cumulative number of confirmed cases since the onset of the outbreak last October to 4,295.

By last week, about 82 people had died of cholera, a fatality rate of about two per cent. WHO describes cholera as an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated despite it being preventable.

So far, 14 of the 47 counties have recorded at least five cases of cholera. Garissa Country has the highest-burden with more than 1,000 people testing positive for the disease.

Other counties that have recorded cases include; Tana River (659), Nairobi (595), Kiambu (356), Machakos (267), Wajir (265), Meru (85), Nyeri (55), Murang’a (39), Homa Bay (29), Kitui (27), Kajiado (21), Uasin Gishu (8), and Nakuru (5). The vaccines call came as Kemri presented the latest findings from a study on quantitatively assessing 15 pathways through which the population in informal settlements may be exposed to faecal contamination and cholera.

“The poor water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) infrastructure in urban and informal settlements (sewer disposal, open drains) is driving the spread of cholera.”

“There has been general laxity in WaSH habits (especially handwashing after Covid-19) that could be one the factors contributing to the spread of cholera as faecal-orally transmitted diarrhoeal disease,” said Prof Sam Kariuki, who is the director of the centre for microbiology research at Kemri.

Densely populated areas

On the ongoing cholera outbreak, Prof Kariuki explained the first cases were initially detected in informal settlements east of Nairobi in June 2021, and then in October 2022 a large outbreak (66 individuals hospitalised) in Limuru Sub-county, Kiambu County following a wedding.

Prof Kariuki further revealed that, according to their findings, from October last year, the majority of the cases have been recorded in densely populated areas like Soweto (36), Kayole (14), Eastleigh (6), Dandora (6).

Other areas where positive cases have been confirmed include Bahati (1), Eastleigh (6), Gateway(1), Jericho(1), Kasarani (1) Kayole(36), Majengo(3), Maria(1), Mutindwa(6) Shauri Moyo(1), Tassia(1), and Utawala(1).

More men, compared to women, are being infected but the margin of the difference is quite small. Unfortunately, children are the worst hit as about 40 per cent of infections are in children aged between 0 and 10 per cent.

While the rate of infections between men and women is almost the same, a high percentage of men have died. Data from the Health ministry shows that 78 per cent of the cumulative deaths were from men.

The attack rate of the disease varies from different counties, and this shows that counties with the most infections have a higher attack rate compared to those with fewer numbers. Garissa and Tana River counties have an attack rate of more than 200 people per 100, 000 in their population.

Consultant pathologist Dr Ahmed Kalebi told Nation that drought exacerbates cholera outbreaks because of water scarcity. That in turn makes people use of polluted and contaminated water sources that may lead to cholera outbreaks.

The Health ministry’s data shows that counties with the highest burden are also the same ones that are drought-stricken. The ministry has also acknowledged that drought is an impediment in the fight against the disease because both the outbreak and drought are competing issues that need an emergency response.