(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Lack of facilities hampering bid to halt black fever outbreak

View of a semi-arid landscape in Isiolo, eastern Kenya. July 2007. Livestock keeping is the main activity in arid and semi-arid areas, which are mostly inhabited by pastoralists.
Jane Some/IRIN

A lack of laboratory facilities, transport and skilled medical workers is hampering efforts to tackle an outbreak of visceral leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease also known as kala azar or black fever, in northern Kenya’s Isiolo and Wajir districts, officials said.

"We have a serious shortage of personnel to cover the affected area. We are also faced with the problem of mobility as we have only one vehicle for the work," said Ali Wario, a public health officer in Isiolo, told IRIN.

He added that there was a lack of personnel trained in the prevention and management of the disease.

The outbreak has killed five people since it was first recorded in April 2008. Ten more cases were confirmed in July by a special surveillance team. In early June, the total number of confirmed cases was 66.

“We must now move to prevent as we treat the cases at Merti [health centre in Isiolo], but lack of medicines and transport must be addressed urgently,” he added.

A local councillor, Ibrahim Halake, appealed to the government and aid agencies to provide vehicles to help affected families travel to health centres.

"Families are selling their animals. We have been asked on several occasions to help raise funds for those who are sick. Many families are poor and cannot afford to travel to the health centre - it is far," he told IRIN.

Once it enters the body, the leishmaniasis parasite, which is carried by sand flies, migrates to internal organs and bone marrow. If an infection progresses and is left untreated, it almost always results in death.

Sand flies thrive in the cracks of mud-covered dwellings, in cow dung, rat burrows, ant-hills, dry river beds and vegetation. In Wajir, the flies often bite people as they dig for water in the bed of the Ewaso Nyiro River or graze their livestock.

Kala azar is endemic in northern Kenya and outbreaks are common in times of drought.

na/am/mw

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