KENYA — Kenya has surpassed its goal of vaccinating 1.59 million individuals across eight high-risk counties during a 10-day oral cholera vaccine (OCV) campaign.

The campaign, which ran from August 3 to August 12, reached an impressive 104.5% of its target, immunizing 1.67 million people.

Dr. Emmanuel Okunga, acting head of the Health Ministry’s Disease Surveillance and Response Unit, credited this achievement to a strategy that focused on ubiquity.

He explained that the success was the result of “deploying teams of the 1,886 vaccinators and 943 volunteers in a house-to-house, public places, churches, mosques, settlements, water points, and health facilities vaccination drive.”

This initiative was prompted by a cholera outbreak in Kenya, first reported in October 2022. Since then, the outbreak has led to 11,872 cases and 196 deaths across the country.

Dr. Okunga emphasized the severity of the situation, with a case fatality rate of 1.7%. To put this in context, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends maintaining case fatality rates below 1% through appropriate interventions.

Recent cholera epidemics worldwide have seen higher case fatality rates, with a global average of 1.9% in 2021 and 2.9% in Africa.

In response to the outbreak, the recent vaccination campaign specifically targeted sub-counties with high caseloads and fatality rates.

Dr. Sultani Matendechero, the Health Ministry’s deputy director general, highlighted that the cholera outbreak had affected 26 counties, approximately half of the country, underscoring the need for continued vigilance.

Dr. Matendechero emphasized the ongoing battle against cholera, warning that the disease could easily spread to other counties.

He urged people to prioritize clean water, safe food, hygiene, and sanitation practices like handwashing and proper waste disposal to prevent the disease’s transmission.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by consuming contaminated food or water, primarily attributed to Vibrio cholerae bacteria.

Dr. Matendechero highlighted that cholera is endemic in Kenya, with outbreaks influenced by climate change and exacerbated by various factors.

To address the crisis comprehensively, the Health Ministry is strengthening coordination activities, water and sanitation efforts, risk communication networks, community engagement, patient case management, and laboratory confirmation of cases in collaboration with county governments, line ministries, and partners.

The vaccination effort was made possible through the support of Gavi, which funds the global cholera vaccine stockpile, and the International Coordinating Group (ICG), which approves vaccine dose applications.

These organizations provided over 1.7 million vaccine doses for the OCV campaign. An additional shipment of 1.6 million doses from Gavi and the ICG was deployed in January 2023 to assist in curbing the outbreak.

Nairobi’s spike in cases sees overwhelming demand for the vaccine

Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, experienced a surge in cholera cases prior to the campaign’s launch. Suzanne Silatoi, Nairobi City County Government Executive for Health, Nutrition, and Wellness, reported over 190 confirmed cholera cases in the Kamukunji neighborhood.

During the campaign, hundreds of people, including those from neighboring areas, turned up for vaccinations.

Despite challenges in reaching remote areas and gated communities, the vaccination teams encountered enthusiastic crowds at public places such as markets and playgrounds.

However, the threat of cholera remains a significant concern, especially with the potential for severe weather conditions linked to the El Nino phenomenon and climate change in the coming months. Heavy rains could lead to a spike in water-borne diseases, including cholera.

Pamela Muage, Assistant Director of the Meteorological Services in Kenya, highlighted climate change as a contributing factor to cholera outbreaks.

She explained that high temperatures and precipitation affect the availability and quality of drinking water, while heavy rainfall leads to flooding and water resource contamination, facilitating the spread of cholera.

In a related development, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is currently grappling with a severe public health crisis as a cholera epidemic has been declared in the Shabunda health zone, located in the South Kivu province.

The outbreak has raised alarm, necessitating immediate action to mitigate its impact. Territorial authorities have emphasized strict hygiene measures, including the construction of toilets, as a crucial step in preventing the disease’s further spread.

Reports indicate 67 cases of cholera in just two weeks, resulting in 11 tragic fatalities.

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