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KENYA: Cholera kills 29 as water shortage bites

LAISAMIS, 9 October 2009 (IRIN) - At least 29 people have died of cholera and hundreds more are being treated for cholera-related symptoms such as acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) in the larger Turkana District in the northwest and in the eastern regions of Garbatulla and Laisamis, say health officials.

"Two people have died in Garbatulla, five in Laisamis, three in Turkana North, one in Turkana South and 18 in Turkana Central," said an official in Kenya's Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.

The regions are not only facing an acute water shortage, due to a prolonged drought, but also have poor latrine coverage.

In the past week, he said, a total of 246 AWD cases have been reported and are being treated as cholera due to confirmation of the disease. Some 42 cases of cholera have been confirmed in the region.

Laisamis is in the larger Marsabit District, a vast region stretching about 66,000 sqkm. Residents are forced to trek long distances to health centres.

David Kasanga, Laisamis medical officer, told IRIN that three of the deceased had "died at home before they could reach [the] nearest health facilities".

Kasanga said health workers had been deployed to the affected areas, and the local Elmolo health centre has been reopened to deal with the new outbreak.

He said tents had been set up to serve as temporary wards. "We have managed to get drugs but we need more assistance as [the drugs] might not be enough to handle the rising number of new cases," he said.

Mark Ekale, a local leader, told IRIN that families had been forced to spend more on healthcare. "People are selling relief food... so that they can afford to pay for transport to the nearest health facilities."

According to residents, the number of dead may be higher due to a lack of access to medical services.

Laisamis Member of Parliament, Joseph Lekuton, said mobile clinics should be set up and additional health personnel sent to the area. Regions around Laisamis have experienced recurrent cholera outbreaks in the past six months.  At least 834 cholera cases were reported in a previous outbreak there in June.

According to Lekuton, disease is just one of many challenges affecting local residents. "This is the worst year for Laisamis residents. Many have died as a result of hunger and disease[s] like cholera and malaria," he said, calling for more control initiatives. "...We must [prevent] more deaths and [the] burying of people every day," he said.

Like most of northern Kenya, Marsabit is facing an acute water shortage due to a prolonged drought and last saw rain in May 2008. The water scarcity has been blamed for the outbreak as residents are being forced to use water from sources that are believed to have been contaminated.

"The cholera outbreaks move from one locality to another but have similar causes - water problems, poor hygiene and a low latrine coverage," said the health ministry official, adding that the government was trucking in water and providing hygiene education. "We are encouraging affected residents to build and use latrines."

na-aw/mw

Theme (s): Environment, Health & Nutrition, Water & Sanitation,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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