On Thursday last week, in the sleepy rural village of Kongor in Tiaty, Baringo county, a young mother lost her battle to malaria, following an outbreak.
The death of Chepkoikat Lotingole, 18, adds to 28 malaria victims in Baringo county and 52 nationally, many of whom have died after failing to receive treatment in time due to long distances to hospitals.
Lotingole was pregnant, but illness left her bedridden in her grass-thatched manyatta home.
She died while being helped by residents to seek medication at Kolowa Health Centre, a more than 30km trek. Luckily she delivered her child, Lilan Lotingole, who sadly is now orphaned.
The child was left under the care of her ageing mother-in-law, Chepkachel Nalima, who is 70.
When Baringo leaders toured the area and visited Lotingole’s home on Friday, tears were rolling down Nalima’s face as she soothed the child.
The granny was overwhelmed with grief, so she could not even utter a word as Baringo woman representative Gladwel Cheruiyot bent down to greet the day-old orphaned baby.
Also present were Governor Stanley Kiptis, Tiaty MP William Kamket and subcounty commissioner Yusuf Huka, and Tirioko MCA Sam Lourien.
They were accompanied by county assembly health committee members, Red Cross officials and journalists on a fact-finding mission.
FIRST DROUGHT, NOW THIS!
Cheruiyot admitted amid sobs that malaria is a real threat in Baringo.
“If a pregnant woman is seriously sick and at the same time hungry because maybe she has not eaten anything while approaching her labour, then what would you expect?” she said.
She blamed the rampant malaria deaths on the biting hunger situation and lack of nutritious food in parts of Baringo county.
“I happen to have studied nutrition in my medical training, and the problem is that the hungry residents in this countryside depend solely on relief food. These were issued mostly with cereal (carbohydrate foods) such as maize and rice, without any nutritious supplement,” Cheruiyot said.
She added that as a fellow woman, she feels painful to see women and children bearing the brunt of common endemic illnesses.
“I fail to understand why Baringo does not benefit from the equalisation fund, despite being among the counties grappling with drought, health and education crisis,” Cheruiyot said.
“if someone thinks there are no issues in Baringo, then wait until they come to this place and see for themselves.”
At the Chemolingot Health Centre, more than 2,000 patients, including women, youths and the elderly, were languishing with malaria.
Chebosamai Losekwang, 80, could not support her visibly feeble and emaciated body, forcing the nurses to give her medication while she was lying helplessly on the ground.
“She cannot help herself to stand on her feet, so I had to inject her on the ground,” nurse in-charge Christopher Rotich told the Star.
He also attended to a youthful patient, Kabuti Lomadok, 28.
Lomadok, who gained his consciousness after receiving two injections, spoke in a low tone.
He said his sickness started on Thursday last week, when he developed some headache, fever and stomach pain.
Governor Kiptis called on the Red Cross team to help transport baby Lilan to receive vaccination at Chemolingot Health Centre. He also appealed to well-wishers to offer assistance to the family.
And after visiting the patients at Chemolingot, he said the lives of people of Tiaty and entire lower Baringo are at risk.
“It’s not only in Tiaty. We have had similar cases although not of this magnitude in sides of Baringo North and South,” Kiptis said.
The governor said the county has ordered sufficient drugs from the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority to help deal with the malaria outbreak.
He said the death toll is partly due to the ongoing nurses’ strike, saying it has slowed down response to the health emergencies.
Kiptis said the county has recovered from insecurity caused by bandit attacks three months ago.
He urged the national government and well-wishers to pool resources together to help rebuild people’s lives and their dwindling livelihoods.
The governor said hunger has hit the county due to prolonged drought, saying most people hail from pastoral communities, so they cannot do farming.
Tiaty Public Health director Joseph Nakopir said many patients risk death at Chemolingot Health Centre due to shortage of blood supplies.
“We received up to 20 critical patients with a dire need for blood, but we currently encounter a serious shortage of it the facility,” he said.
Nakopir said they have ordered more blood supplies from the Nakuru General Hospital and the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital-Eldoret.
The county leaders also made stopovers to see the patients at Loiwatamoi, Kapaw, Rottu, Kulol, Kongor and Chesawach villages in Akoret division.
Due to the severity of the situation, they called for First Lady Margaret Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero mobile clinic to camp in the subcounty for three months to tackle malaria emergencies.
“We never know how long it may take to clear off the endemic illnesses, but we would like the mobile medical truck to be brought here in Tiaty to ease the patients’ access to health services,” Cheruiyot said.
During our 100km journey from Chemolingot (subcounty headquarters of Tiaty) to Kongor, we made several stopovers. Some residents we met on the way were not sick, but after learning about our tour, they turned up in their hundreds along the roadside, asking for food.
“Give us food,” two boys uttered in Pokot to MCA Louren, whom we boarded the same vehicle with. He alighted to offer them two bundles of biscuits to quench their hunger.
The stifling sunshine showed there was no rain and the area is courting another serious drought accompanied by famine.
In their findings, health committee chair Richard Rono said 20 people have succumbed to malaria since it broke out on Thursday last week.
“For real, the malaria situation in Tiaty is wanting. More work is needed here is on prevention, not only treating, so we need to go back and think of ways of doing so,” Rono said.
The committee is expected to submit its comprehensive forensic report on malaria findings to the assembly on Tuesday.
“This is just but a preliminary finding from the council of elders from this locality. We are yet to seek further clarification from the health professionals undertaking the treatment exercise across the affected areas,” Rono said.
He said they are happy the situation has subsided thanks to the urgent response of humanitarian agencies including the Kenya Red Cross and World-Vision International.
The health chair said malaria in itself has become a county disaster and they will treat it as a matter of emergency.
“We will make sure our county ambulances are fully fuelled and put here on standby to help transport patients to Chelingot and Kabarnet and Nakuru hospitals,” Rono said.
MP Kamket said the constituency has been facing the same health problems for a while now without assistance.
Nonetheless, he appreciated the efforts from the national and county governments to respond quickly to the malaria outbreak.
“Apart from the malaria outbreak, there is also a high hunger situation forcing many to go out without food,” Kamket said.
The MP called on the national government to release relief food as soon as possible to avert more deaths.
He asked the nurses in Baringo to consider suspending their strike until the pandemic ends.
The legislator said the insecurity in the county due to tribal clashes was a “short-lived disagreement” that should not be used as an excuse not to assist the people.
Kamket asked the county assembly to pass a supplementary budget to buy food and drugs for the malnourished residents before the endemic gets out of hand.
‘NO FUEL FOR AMBULANCES’
“When I called Health executive Andrew Kwonyike, he told me the vehicles were grounded and don’t have fuel,” MCA Lourien said.
The executive, Lourien added, said the Health department has not been allocated budget to fuel their vehicles from Kabarnet, crippling operations.
The MCA criticised Kwonyike for denying the claims of deaths from the cholera outbreak, saying failure to take responsibility is a sign of negligence of one’s role.
Ward administrator Peter Kiptalam said many residents are illiterate and don’t know how to use mosquito nets.
“Most of them are pastoralists herding their livestock in the bushes, far away from the roads and homesteads,” he said.
The administrator urged the national and county governments and well-wishers to donate funds to put up more health facilities in Akoret, Tiaty.
However, East Pokot deputy commissioner Yusuf Huka said everything is under control, dismissing reports that people died.
“Health officers from Chemolingot Subcounty Hospital were on the ground to arrest the situation, and they have not reported to us any such deaths or any outbreak,” Huka said.