Four people have succumbed and 13 others remain admitted at the Garissa Referral Hospital following the outbreak of the Kala-Azar disease in Kitui county.
The nursing officer in charge of Garissa Referral hospital paedriatic ward, Abdullahi Abdi said that the four died within the last two weeks as more patients are being brought in.
“This is the highest number of patients we’ve gotten from Kitui. We used to admit 2 to 3 patients a month,” he stated.
Kala Azar is the second largest parasitic killer in the world, after Malaria. Symptoms include fever, weight loss, anaemia, fatigue and substantial swelling of the liver and spleen.
Kala Azar, Chagas disease and sleeping sickness, are the most neglected tropical illnesses. It is spread to humans through bites from infected sand flies, caused by bites from female phlebotomine sandflies- the transmitter of the leishmania parasite.
The parasitic illness attacks the immune system and is almost always fatal if left untreated. Between 200,000 and 400,000 cases are reported each year, with about 90 percent of the cases in India, Bangladesh, Sudan, Nepal and Brazil.
Abdullahi Abdi revealed that of the 13 admitted cases, 11 were children all below the age of 10. Peter Muthengi, whose 5-year-old daughter is currently admitted at the Garissa health facility said that he had to rush to Garissa as no Hospital in Kitui was equipped to handle the tropical disease, instead referring them to neighbouring counties.
“I have been to 3 hospitals. I was first referred to Isiolo Hospital from Tseikuru but we were chased away from Isiolo at night over claims that there was an outbreak of Covid-19 in Kitui county. I went to Mwingi sub-county hospital but I was told they don’t treat Kal Azar and referred again to Garissa,” Muthengi said.
“Back at home there are several children with the same problem but their parents cannot afford to bring them here for treatment. There is a looming problem in the two wards and I am appealing to the government to urgently send medics there to save lives,” he added.
Peris Joseph, another Kitui resident who had rushed her loved one to Garissa after noticing some of the symptoms, expressed her concern over the ill-equipped health facilities in Kitui County.
“I am urging the Kitui county government to buy drugs and send health workers to the affected wards to treat the sick before more lives are lost.
“It’s a shame for residents of Kitui to travel all the way to Garissa to receive treatment while the two counties receive similar health allocations from the national government,” she stated.
Sand flies feed on humans and animals for blood, which is needed for them to develop eggs. If the parasite feeds on blood containing the leishmania parasite, the next person who gets a bite will be infected and develop leishmaniasis.
The initial infection progresses over a couple of months to a more severe form called visceral leishmaniasis or Kala azar.