Nairobi — The continued spread of the Rift Valley Fever has serious economic and health implications for Kenya.
About 120 people have already died from the killer fever, and laboratory tests have confirmed hundreds more to have been exposed.
Many other people could die or get infected unless the disease is stopped from spreading further.
On the economic front, RVF threatens to wreak unprecedented devastation on the country's red meat industry, which according to an Export Zones Promotion Authority (EZPA) investors briefing, is worth more than Sh45 billion a year.
The sector contributes four per cent of the GDP, and employs hundreds of thousands of people in the arid and semi-arid areas (Asal), as well as those working in meat distribution outlets in urban areas.
These people could suffer irreparable economic loss if the outbreak is not controlled.
In addition, the outbreak is likely to slow down the revival of the Kenya Meat Commission and the integration of the Asal areas into the mainstream economy. Kenya, as a whole, will suffer.
Given these far-reaching economic and health consequences, the Government must now seriously consider launching a national vaccination programme for all susceptible livestock.
The signs are that the international community is willing to partner with Kenya to fund any interventions that the Government may consider necessary.
Elsewhere, the ministries of health and livestock must jointly conduct a more coherent public awareness campaign than they have so far. It is a mark of their failure that people on the streets of Nairobi, for example, are still unsure whether to eat roast meat or not, or if they can contract RVF from their domestic pets.
A good public awareness campaign will in particular help turn the tide of national panic the disease has caused. That has largely happened because nobody from the two agencies has bothered to tell the people that as epidemics go, RVF has a very low death rate of less than 1 per cent.
Ironically, the low key, disjointed effort at informing the public on basic safeguards to take against RVF is in contrast to the high-profile campaign the two ministries conducted in 2005 to sensitise Kenyans about bird-flu.
We hate to attribute the difference in approach to the fact that the chicken industry, which is more centrally-run than the red meat industry, took the initiative itself to educate the public.
Matters of public health should not be left to the whims of corporate goodwill.