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Breakdown of top malaria risk zones in Kenya by county

April 25 is World Malaria Day, learn more about the latest statistics about the disease in Kenyan counties.

Mother and child inside a mosquito net

Malaria is a serious disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malaria remains one of the world's leading killers, claiming the lives of more than 400,000 people each year, most of whom are children under the age of five.

The disease remains a global health problem that affects people in more than 90 countries around the world. The highest burden of the disease is in Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 90% of malaria deaths occur.

WHO further indicates that four African countries, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Mozambique account for almost half of all cases globally.

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In Kenya, there are an estimated 3.5 million new clinical cases and 10,700 deaths each year caused by malaria and those living in western Kenya have a higher risk of malaria infection.

More than 70% of the population is at constant risk of malaria, those most vulnerable to the disease are children and pregnant women.

Malaria transmission and infection risk in Kenya are mainly determined by altitude, rainfall patterns, and temperature, leading to considerable variation in malaria prevalence by season and across geographic zones.

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Research shows that Lake Victoria and coastal regions have ambient temperatures suitable for malaria transmission and have the necessary amounts and seasonality of rainfall to sustain lengthy periods of transmission.

  • Highland epidemic-prone areas

These areas lie 1,500 metres above sea level. Epidemic malaria occurs when climatic conditions favour the sustainability of minimum temperatures above 18°C.

This increase in minimum temperatures during periods of long and short rains favours sustained vector breeding resulting in an increased intensity of malaria transmission that occasionally reaches epidemic proportions.

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Some of the highland epidemic-prone zones include Kisii, Nyamira, West Pokot, Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Narok, Kericho, Bomet, Bungoma and Kakamega

  • Endemic areas (lake and coast)

These are areas of stable malaria transmission (with altitudes ranging from 0 to 1,300 m) around Lake Victoria in western Kenya and in the coastal regions. Rainfall, temperature, and humidity are the determinants of the perennial transmission of malaria.

Some of the lake and coast endemic areas include; Siaya, Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia, Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, and Taita Taveta.

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This zone, in arid and semi-arid areas of the northern, northeastern, and southeastern parts of the country, experiences short periods of intense malaria transmission during the rainfall seasons.

Temperatures are usually high, and water pools created during events of above-normal rainfall provide the malaria vectors with numerous breeding habitats.

Some of the seasonal areas include Tana River, Marsabit, Isiolo, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, Kitui, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Turkana, Samburu, Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kajiado, and West Pokot.

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This zone covers the central highlands of Kenya, including Nairobi. Temperatures are usually too low to allow the completion of the sporogony cycle of the malaria parasite in the vector.

Some of the low risks of malaria areas include Nairobi, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Kiambu, Machakos, Makueni, Laikipia, Nakuru, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, and Embu.

There has been a concerted effort by the government and malaria partnerships to fight the disease through prevention and treatment interventions such as mass and routine mosquito net distribution programs, intermittent preventive treatment for malaria during pregnancy, and parasitological diagnosis and management of malaria cases

The government has also set specific targets as part of a national framework to strategically eliminate malaria by 2030, the global deadline set by the WHO to eradicate the disease.

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Malaria symptoms usually appear between 10 days to one month after the person was infected.

Below are some of the symptoms to watch out for.

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Malaria should be treated early in its course before it becomes serious and life-threatening.

Several good antimalarial drugs are available and should be taken early on.

The most important step is to go see a doctor if you are sick and are presently in, or have recently been in, an area with malaria so that the disease is diagnosed and treated right away.

Malaria can be cured with prescription drugs. The type of drugs and length of treatment depend on the type of malaria, where the person was infected, their age, whether they are pregnant, and how sick they are at the start of treatment.

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  • Vaccines

Vaccines are critical to reducing malaria morbidity and mortality. The first malaria vaccine in Kenya was recommended for use to prevent malaria in children in October 2021.

More than 1.4 million children have received the vaccine across the 3 pilot countries since 2019, of which, 400,000 children in Kenya have received at least their first dose.

If implemented broadly, the vaccine could save tens of thousands of lives each year.

  • Apply mosquito repellents to exposed skin.
  • Drape mosquito netting over beds.
  • Treat clothing, mosquito nets, tents, sleeping bags and other fabrics with insect repellents
  • Wear long pants and long sleeves to cover your skin.
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