(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

More testing kits, drugs to combat Black fever

[Kenya] A malnourished child eats maizemeal porridge at Ntungai village, Isiolo District. [Date picture taken: 01/11/2006]
John Nyaga/IRIN

Efforts to control Black fever (visceral leishmaniasis), also known as Kala-azar, have been stepped up in northern Kenya's Wajir and Isiolo Districts, where 130 cases have been reported, health officials said.

"There is an increased availability of diagnostic kits and drugs for the control of the disease," said Shahnaaz Sharif, the senior deputy director of medical services in the health ministry.

Previously, diagnostic tests could only be performed at the main hospital, but these were now being carried out at health centres, Sharif said. "It is now possible to know the results in about 20 minutes," he added.

At least nine people have died since the outbreak was first recorded in April, he said, while the total number of confirmed cases had also gone up from 66 in early June to 130.

The increase, he said, was attributable to improved testing, which was picking up more symptomatic cases. Sharif said health officials were also providing local residents with mosquito nets for disease control.

Although Kala-azar is transmitted by the phlebotomus sand fly, the use of insecticide-treated nets has been found to be effective in reducing exposure.

The fly, often found in dry river beds, ant hills and mud huts, transfers a deadly strain of the leishmaniasis parasite with its bite. If left untreated, the parasite can spread to the internal organs and cause death.

Sharif said local residents were also being urged to destroy ant hills near their dwellings.

Some of the risk factors for Kala-azar include the prevalence of drought, which affects children's nutrition, thus lowering their immunity. Most of those affected in the current outbreak are younger than five, according to Sharif.

The medical relief organisation Merlin on 5 August said mobile services to reach remote areas along with specialist centres had been set up to control the spread of the disease. Local health staff were also receiving training on symptom and disease diagnosis.

Kala-azar is said to be one of the largest parasitic killers in the world, responsible for an estimated half a million deaths worldwide each year.

The disease is endemic to the northern drought-prone parts of Kenya as well as parts of Ethiopia.

aw/mw

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