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Battling to contain cholera, hepatitis E outbreaks

Handwashing with soap has been shown to reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by over 40 percent, according to UNICEF (file photo)

An outbreak of cholera along the Kenya-Somalia border has left dozens dead and many more sick, according to local residents, aid workers and government officials.

"We have recorded nine deaths of cholera patients at our health facilities in the past three weeks, and 89 cases have been diagnosed at different settlement locations close to the border areas," Mohamed Sheikh, director of public health in Kenya's North Eastern Province, told IRIN.

Residents, however, say dozens have died in recent weeks while trekking across the border from Somalia. Many were too weak to reach health facilities.

"More than 50 people have died. A women and her child died last night at a village close to Amuma," Abdirizak Haji, a local leader from the Kenyan border town of Liboi, told IRIN.

"The infected people are too weak; they cannot walk to the health facilities. We need mobile services, the people also need water. The government needs to offer water trucking services as most of the areas hit by cholera are faced with severe water shortage," he added.

Crossing the border

In north-eastern Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex, home to an estimated half a million people, officials of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) told IRIN that some 18 people have been diagnosed with and treated for the disease.

Sheikh said the disease, first reported in the Somali village of Hoonsigo, located some 100km from Liboi, could have been spread by migrant pastoralists and people fleeing southern Somalia, where the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali government troops have been conducting military operations against the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabab.

"We cannot stop the migration of people, but measures have been put in pace to prevent new infections. We have [distributed] more drugs to the areas along the border and the refugee camps… to handle the possible high number of fresh cases in case more Somalis [get into Kenya]," he said.

Officials blamed the quick spread of the disease on a lack of health facilities, poor sanitation and the water crisis in Somalia.

Aid workers say surveillance and diagnosis has been improved, and activities are ongoing to create awareness among residents on how to improve sanitation. Already, water tanks, jerry cans and a consignment of cholera drugs have been distributed to residents and health facilities in Damajaley, Liboi, Amuma, Dadachabulla, Garissa and Wajir, some of the worst hit areas.

Hepatitis E

Meanwhile, an outbreak of hepatitis E, which also results from consuming contaminated water, has left four people dead and 233 others infected in Dadaab, Andrej Mahecic, spokesperson for UNHCR in Dadaab, told IRIN.

The incubation period for Hepatitis E is three to eight weeks, and UNHCR is warning that more cases are likely to be reported over the coming weeks. Jaundice - a yellow discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes - is one of the most common symptoms of infection.

The agency has begun constructing 6,000 latrines and has scaled-up the camp's water supply to stem further outbreaks.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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