An outbreak of dengue fever and a suspected outbreak of kala-azar in northern Kenya are drawing attention to the need for improved health services in some of the country’s most remote communities.
Health officials report the dengue fever outbreak is taking place in Mandera District, along the Ethiopian and Somali borders. Local health workers say there have been some 300 cases since the outbreak began in January. Three suspected dengue deaths have been recorded, and there are fears that more cases have gone unreported.
“We can’t term it as a big outbreak now, but we have sent a disease surveillance and response team there to help the facilities there and to also take specimen for further tests,” said Ian Njeru, director of disease surveillance and response at the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation. “Some 100 specimens we collected tested negative for malaria, and we have started to diagnose to see if they can be dengue fever infections.”
"Most of the patients are seeking treatment in private clinics," said one official. “The district hospital is not treating the matter seriously. The poor are suffering, and they are the most affected.”
A nurse at a government hospital told IRIN that they lacked the antibiotics and fluids needed to help manage the dengue outbreak.
"No intervention measures are in place now. No special team has been formed to deal with the dengue cases since an outbreak was reported mid-last month,” she said. "An anaemic and expectant [mother] died at a clinic in town; she had both malaria and dengue. A police sergeant based in Elwak [a town in Mandera] died on 29 January, while another man who contracted the disease died in Mandera last week.”
In 2011, an outbreak of dengue fever infected up to 5,000 people.
Meanwhile, senior health officials have denied reports of an outbreak of kala-azar, a parasitic disease, in Wajir District, also in northern Kenya.
"Wajir south is prone to periodic, frequent cases of kala-azar. The last cases were reported late last year, [and] I am not aware of any fresh cases or new outbreak," Abdikadir Sheikh, the provincial director of public health and sanitation, told IRIN.
But officials at the not-for-profit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) told IRIN they had received unconfirmed reports of possible new cases of the disease.
"We are set to send a fact-finding team to Habaswein [in] Wajir [because]the report obtained by our office is not confirmed. We have also heard that a man has died, but our mission is going out there to follow up and get a credible report," said Monique Wasunna, head of DNDi Africa.
The government says it has run out of kits to diagnose kala-azar.