The Star (Nairobi)

3 December 2012

Kenya: Drugs Firm, Who Launch Campaign to Curb Bilharzia

AN international drugs firm and WHO have launched a campaign to eradiacte bilharzia in 56 districts. The initiative seeks to save more than 16 million Kenyans who are either sick or at risk of contracting the disease.

Merck pharmaceutical has promised to give 25 million tablets annually to treat more than six million children affected by worms. The drugs will be increased to 250 million by 2016.

President Stefan Oschmann president said the firm invested $25 million (Sh2.1 billion) in the campaign to treat and eradicate bilharzia and other tropical diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa.

He said the drugs firm will mark the 100 millionth tablet donations at Mukou Primary school in Mwea, Kirinyaga where paddy rice farming has led to the spread of the parasite worms.

"We will scale this project to 250 million tablets per year and we are going to donate this amount up to 2016 to make it available to children" said Oschhmann.

The Public Health in conjunction with WHO will target school going children between 9 and 14 in Mwea, Coast, Eastern and Lake Victoria regions where bilharzia is common.

WHO global coordinator for preventive chemotherapy and transmission control of neglected tropical diseases Dirk Engels said 90 per cent of infections are in sub-Saharan Africa.

He said the partnership with Merck has benefited 250 million people in bilharzia endemic areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. He added praziquantel therapy has been the most effective treatment in the fight against the parasitic worm.

Engels said China, Brazil have been eradicated the disease, adding that attention should now be turned to Africa. He said in Kenya, the disease is a problem in irrigation areas where children suffer slow cognitive development and anaemia.

"We are rolling out the chemotherapy to see that the human bilharzia is eradicated completely in Kenyan mostly where irrigation is done.

Research has shown that children who have bilharzia infection will get liver and kidney failure after they attain the age of 40 and above and it is not clinically possible to detect victims," said Engels.

The programme will target 56 districts in the country where five million children will benefit from the free tablet every year in the mass treatment to children with severe cases leading to liver and kidney complications after 40 years.

National coordinator for neglected tropical diseases Dorcas Alusala blamed the prevalence of the worms to poor disposal of human waste in water canals and rivers.

"Bilharzia is a disease that affects school going children and matures when the children are teenagers. We in the ministry want to make sure that their growth is not hampered by the water borne disease to enable them learn properly" she said.

Alusala said a study conducted in Mwea in Kirinyaga South by Kemri showed that the prevalence of bilharzia infection in children aged 9 and14 years is at 61.5 per cent.

She the government has made the eradication of bilharzia and other tropical diseases a priority in achieving the health goals in Vision 2030.

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