ON RIGHT TRACK

Kenya on course to eliminate neglected tropical diseases

Experts warn that recent global crises such as ebola and zika viruses show infections can cross borders.

In Summary

• Globally, there are 20 neglected tropical diseases, with Kenya being affected by 12.  

• In February 2018, Kenya became the 41st country out of the 47 in Africa to be certified free of guinea worm disease.

Director, Department of Control of NTDs at the World Health Organisation Dr Mwele Malecela during the International Conference on NTDs in Nairobi
Director, Department of Control of NTDs at the World Health Organisation Dr Mwele Malecela during the International Conference on NTDs in Nairobi
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

Kenya is on the right track towards the elimination of neglected tropical diseases, experts have said.

In February 2018, Kenya became the 41st country out of the 47 in Africa to be certified free of guinea worm disease.

The World Health Organization NTDs control department director Mwele Malecela said yesterday that leprosy is being eliminated and sleeping sickness is moving steadily towards elimination.  

“This is all such inspiring and amazing progress and has only been possible due to the collaboration of so many people, across so many African countries,” Malecela said. 

The experts warned that recent global crises such as ebola and zika viruses have heightened the border insensitive nature of infectious diseases, mostly in Africa.

“There is, therefore, an urgent need for joint approaches in the fight against NTDs to ensure that the elimination agenda is fully achieved within and across borders,” Executive Director African Research Network for NTDs Dr John Amuasi said.

The University of Pretoria's Arthur Ng’etich said surveillance and response systems greatly determine the overall performance of the broader health system.

NTDs are tropical infections which are common in poor populations in regions of Africa.

They are called neglected because they have been eliminated in the developed world but persist in the poorest, marginalised communities and conflict areas.

The diseases are caused by viruses, bacteria, protozoa and helminths. Those afflicted suffer deformity, disability and stigmatisation.

Globally, there are 20 neglected tropical diseases, with Kenya being affected by 12 out of the 20.

They include elephantiasis, intestinal worms, bilharzia, trachoma, kala-azar, leprosy, snake bites, dengue and chikungunya, rabies, sleeping sickness and river blindness.

If untreated, the NTDs such as intestinal worms can cause malnutrition leading to anaemia, low immunity, stunted growth and sub-optimal brain development in children.

Kenya is one of several countries across the world experiencing unprecedented outbreaks of diseases like chikungunya, dengue and other haemorrhagic viruses.

Director, Department of Control of NTDs at the World Health Organisation Dr Mwele Malecela and Head of Vector Borne and NTDs Division Dr Sultani Matendechero during the International Conference on NTDs in Nairobi
Director, Department of Control of NTDs at the World Health Organisation Dr Mwele Malecela and Head of Vector Borne and NTDs Division Dr Sultani Matendechero during the International Conference on NTDs in Nairobi
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

Global momentum towards the control and elimination of NTDs have been through use of mass drug administrations and provision of safe water and sanitation.

Other efforts have included health education and the use of safe diagnostic tools among other interventions.

“We need tools that enable us to measure the equity of our interventions as surely as they measure clinical impact, to ensure that the impact of interventions is felt everywhere it is needed,” Malecela noted.

Controlling the vectors (e.g., mosquitoes, black flies) that transmit these diseases and improving basic water, sanitation, and hygiene are highly effective strategies against these NTDs.

(edited by O. Owino)