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El Nino threatens Kenya's fight against Cholera

Current data for 2023 paints a grim picture, with 24 countries currently facing active cholera outbreaks

Janet Maloba swallows a dose of the Oral Cholera Vaccine at a vaccination Facility inside Kitengela Sub County Hospital. Credit:  Kelvin Juma

Cholera is making a troubling comeback globally, with 44 countries reporting a 25% increase in cases in 2022, a trend that continues into 2023.

Adding to the alarm, recent outbreaks are proving to be deadlier than in the past decade.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection that spreads through food and water contaminated with faeces containing the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

It is closely linked to the lack of adequate safe water and sanitation, due to underdevelopment, poverty and conflict.

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In response to this global health crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) is stepping in to support affected nations, including Kenya.

The WHO granted Kenya $499,870 (Sh74,130,721) in February 2023 to strengthen efforts against cholera.

Current data for 2023 paints a grim picture, with 24 countries currently facing active cholera outbreaks, pushing some nations into acute crises.

In Kenya, 71% of cholera cases in 2022 affected individuals older than 5 years, and 29% affected children under 5 years.

Dr. Emmanuel Okunga, the Acting Head of the Health Ministry's Disease Surveillance and Response Unit, highlighted the gravity of the situation.

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Kenya's outbreak which was was reported in October 2022, has so far resulted in 11,872 cases and 196 deaths across the country.

Recognizing the urgency, the Ministry of Health launched an ambitious oral cholera vaccine campaign in August 2023.

The campaign surpassed the target by vaccinating 1.59 million people in eight high-risk counties.

According to data from the Ministry of Health, this involved deploying 1,886 vaccinators and 943 volunteers for widespread coverage.

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However, celebrating these achievements is overshadowed by a new threat - the looming El Nino.

This climate phenomenon, known for warm ocean temperatures, poses a serious risk of undoing Kenya's progress in the cholera battle.

Heavy rains during El Nino could trigger a surge in water-borne diseases, including cholera, coupled with the risk of floods and flash floods.

Kenya's hard-fought gains in combatting cholera, especially through vaccination, may be at risk unless preventive measures swiftly adapt to the changing climate.

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The Ministry of Health, environmental agencies, and disaster management are collaborating to closely to navigate the dual challenge of cholera outbreaks and the impending El Nino.

Nairobi City County has unveiled its El Niño preparedness plan, which includes the hiring of 3,500 youths to join the green Nairobi team and assist in the clearing of the city.

Other regions expected to be significantly affected by El Niño include Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori, Kisii, Nyamira, Baringo, Uasin Gishu, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Kericho, Bungoma, Kakamega, Busia, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot, Vihiga, Laikipia (Laikipia West), Nakuru, and Narok

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