KENYA – Researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health’s Division of National Malaria Programme (DNMP) have discovered a new species of mosquito in the country.

The species, Anopheles Stephensi, risks Kenya to lose gains made in the fight against malaria since experts at KEMRI have warned that discovery of the species might cause a surge of cases and deaths.

The species was detected in Laisamis and Saku sub counties in Marsabit, and later confirmed at KEMRI laboratory.

In a statement, KEMRI noted that the species, which spreads fast, was discovered during a routine mosquito surveillance.

“KEMRI and the Ministry of Health has put in place efforts in research activities in Laimsamis and Saku Sub counties of Marsabit County where the Anopheles stephansi vector samples were first detected and confirmed through laboratory essays at KEMRI,” reads a section of a report by KEMRI.

Kenya becomes the sixth country on the African continent to have invasion of the species. Countries where invasion of the mosquito species has been reported include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.

According to Kenya Malaria indicator survey of 2020, prevalence of malaria in Kenya stands at 5.8 percent.

An estimated 3.5 million new clinical cases and 10,700 deaths are reported in the country every year.

“Unfortunately, the detection in Kenya, may translate to higher malaria transmission in urban and peri urban settings in the country, posing a serious threat that could reverse the gains made in the fight against malaria,” adds KEMRI’s statement.

The species is reported to spread fast in different climatic conditions, risking more cases. Also, it has the capacity to thrive in urban environments, unlike other main mosquito vectors of malaria that primarily breed in rural areas.

Further, the research institution said the species is unique as it thrives in man-made containers such as jerry cans, tyres, open tanks, sewers, cisterns, overhead tanks, and underground tanks and in polluted environments.

KEMRI added in the statement that routine entomological surveillance in counties at risk of the vector is ongoing, in order to determine the extent of vector distribution and mosquito infectivity rates.

“We call on the staff and the public to continue utilising the available malaria control tools such as use of mosquito nets, repellents, and wearing long-sleeved clothing to prevent mosquito bites,” KEMRI has advised.

In a 2019 WHO identified the spread of An. Stephensi as a significant threat to malaria control elimination, particularly in Africa.

At least 95 percent of all malaria cases globally and 96 percent of deaths were found in WHO African Region.

According to WHO, invasion of An. Stephensi in sub Saharan Africa, where the burden of malaria is highest and over 40 percent of the population lives in urban environments, is worrying.

Despite the invasion of the species, among measures put in place to fight malaria in Kenya include administering malaria vaccine (RTS,S/ASO1), which was piloted in the country alongside Ghana and Malawi.

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