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West Pokot residents benefit from free medical camp

Hundreds of West Pokot residents are benefiting from a free medical camp held at St. Comboni Kacheliba Girls’ Primary School in Kacheliba Sub County, courtesy of the Drug for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) in collaboration with the West Pokot county government, among other partners.

Hundreds of residents, mainly in dry areas, have been silently bearing the brunt of medical neglect as arrays of tropical diseases continue to surreptitiously ravage them.

Dr. Borna Nyaoke, Head of Mycetoma at DNDI, a research organisation, said they have mobilised support for patients suffering from neglected diseases and encouraged institutional and community efforts to support them.

Dr. Nyaoke regretted that, despite the progress made so far over the last two decades, an estimated 50 per cent of patients still do not have access to appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

“Many patients don’t know if they have the diseases, and health workers sometimes fail to identify them. For mycetoma, the injury does not heal and grows slowly, like a soft, non-painful tumour,” she explained.

The medic noted that those suffering general illness were treated, while those that needed further treatment were booked for further treatment.

She said mycetoma and kala-azar diseases could be easily cured if timely treatment is sought, urging the community to consider seeking treatment earlier when they fall ill.

“There are many neglected diseases that are killing people as a result of a lack of proper medical checkups,” said Dr. Nyaoke.

She added that, apart from offering treatment to patients, they were also sensitising the community on how vital check-ups were key to living a good life.

She said the aim of the medical camp was to sensitise the community on the value of early disease detection, noting that the majority of the residents who were found suffering from the disease were those who could not afford proper medical treatment and chose to be offered a free medical camp.

She noted that mycetoma never stops growing, and at some point, the wound starts to release pus with white or coloured grains (black, yellow, or red), which fail to heal spontaneously.

She noted that the treatment is different depending on the microbe that grows inside the body.

“This means your wound will be analysed before treatment is decided. In case you have mycetoma, you must complete the treatment, which probably takes a long time,” stated Dr. Nyaoke, adding that patients are given one tablet twice daily for one year.

“If the wound persists, the part is chopped off. One can get the disease from being pierced by thorns infested with bacteria or fungi from soil or water,” she said, urging pastoralists and farmers to put on shoes to prevent the infection.

Kacheliba Sub County Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr. Njenga Kimani revealed that more than 2500 cases of the disease had been reported for the last five years, and there is a need for serious sensitisation in villages about Kala-azar and mycetoma.

Dr. Kimani called for frequent medical tests by entomologists and control of sandflies, which are responsible for transmission of the disease.

Dr. Kimani said Kala-azar (black fever) has signs and symptoms similar to those of malaria, making many patients go for the wrong medication.

“Signs and symptoms of Kala-azar include headache, fever, vomiting, lack of appetite, and general body weakness. These are signs and symptoms diagnosed for malaria,” he explained.

He highlighted that plans were in the offing to start using drugs that are affordable and require a shorter hospital stay following the ongoing study.

“We have had the burden for the last one year. We had 670 cases from West Pokot County. There is still a burden, as already more than 500 cases have been detected this year. “There are Kala-azar treatment centres at Kacheliba and Marich in Sigor and Turkana County,” said Dr. Kimani.

Dr. Kimani cited that Kala-azar is treated by a combination therapy of sodium Stibogluconate (SSG) plus Paramocycin for 17 days or by the use of Rapid Diagnostic test.

West Pokot County Executive Committee Member (CECM) for Health, Claire Parklea, noted that they have trained 50 health workers and 100 community health workers.

She cited that Kala-azar (termes) is common in the areas of Alale, Sekerr, Masol, Lomut, Ombolion, Kasei, Amarel, Takaywa, Chesegon, Kasei, Kokochwai, and Chesta in the West Pokot and Baringo.

“Around 60 per cent of patients in Kacheliba come from Sigor. We have got a few people who are malnourished,” said Ms. Parklea.

Charles Gitonga from FIND Organisation said that they have been doing capacity building in hospitals for doctors, clinical officers, nurses, and laboratory technicians.

He noted that they distribute drugs to 11 countries, courtesy of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“They treat using the Rapid Diagnostic Test 39 and the Direct Agri-test, which is superior. When you test positive, you are put on medication,” said Gitonga.

He said Rotary International was mobilising volunteers and partners since it is expensive to start a treatment site, which requires around Sh5 million.

Moses Korinyang, a resident, called on the County Government to provide drugs for neglected diseases every month because the majority of the residents are low-income earners.

“I am a retired teacher, and I know many people migrate to Uganda in search of pasture for their livestock and are suffering silently,” said Korinyang.

Susan Kodereng, whose 20-year-old daughter Evelyn Nakat from Nakuyen village was found with mycetomia, says she had suffered for five years without treatment.

Kala-azar, or Visceral Leishimaniasis, affects the liver, spleen, and bone marrow and is spread by a bite from an infected female sand fly.

Diseases such as leishmaniasis, dengue fever, bilharzia, and sleeping sickness are now classified in the 12 arid counties of Isiolo, Garissa, Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Tharaka Nithi, Kajiado, and Kitui because of climate change.

There are three main forms of leishmaniasis: visceral (also known as kala-azar), cutaneous (the most common), and mucocutaneous.

The visceral form is the most severe and is fatal if left untreated. There are 50,000 to 90,000 new cases annually, with the highest number being reported in the Eastern African countries of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda.

The disease mostly affects people in resource-limited settings and arid and semi-arid areas, with half of the victims being children under 15.

Leishmaniasis is also a climate-sensitive disease; rising temperatures could affect the pathogen-carrying vectors and worsen its impact.

Over 1000 individuals showed up on day one to receive essential medical treatment, including vital checkups, consultations for different age groups, diagnosis, and treatment.

Many got treatment for common illnesses and screening for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, while others accessed family planning services and screening for cervical, breast, and prostate cancers.

Routine immunisations were also given, dental check-ups were done, nutritional counselling, HIV/AIDS testing, and counselling for substance use were done.

The medical camp that started on Wednesday, November 15, 2023, will be crowned with a 10-kilometre race on Saturday, dubbed Neglected Patients.

By Richard Muhambe and Anthony Melly

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