12 June 2005

Kenya: Mosquitoes Could Spread Some Haemorrhagic Diseases

Nairobi — Scientists fearing the resurgence of mosquito-related infections have expressed fears the parasite may have the potential to spread haemorrhagic diseases currently plaguing some African countries.

Although there are no direct links between mosquito bites and the spread of ebola or its distant cousin, the marburg researchers say some species are known to spread haemorrhagic diseases such as Yellow Fever.

"There is a breed of mosquito which carries highly infectious diseases and it has the potential to transmit them to human beings when they live close to forests," said Prof Benson Estambale, director of the Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases (Unitid) at the University of Nairobi.

The male mosquito known as aedes transmits the dreaded Yellow Fever.

Environmental changes have made it easier for these parasites to survive and they are on the increase. "The dirty environment we live in has partly enhanced the growth of viral infections. The germs causing haemorrhagic diseases and high fevers are maintained by monkeys and the mosquitoes which bite these monkeys might spread them to human beings," explained Estambale.

The University of Nairobi plans to build an ultra-modern disease research laboratory to boost Kenya's preparedness to handle life-threatening infections spread by primates.

Unitid has secured funding from the Canadian government and the University of Manitoba to build the laboratory which is expected to make the institute a reference point for haemorrhagic diseases.

Estambale said the new laboratory whose construction is expected to consume Sh200 million will be used to train people in "barrier nursing", a move aimed at detecting serious diseases and curbing their spread.

"The world has become very small and we must be prepared. Whenever a disease breaks out in the tropical areas of Africa, it should not be considered out of the reach of our borders because people are crossing borders every day," cautioned Estambale.

Kenya, the scientists said, is not well equipped to handle a national crisis if the killer diseases were to penetrate its borders.

"We plan to train a team of doctors and nurses to be based in the rural areas where these diseases can occur anytime," explained Estambale. He added: "We will draw up a comprehensive curriculum to train core teams to predict these diseases. A team of scientists based at the Kenyatta National Hospital will also assist us."

Researchers say the return of ebola and marburg is due to a breakdown in national health systems in Africa. The environment is dirtier and temperatures have risen. Meanwhile, people are moving towards forests where they get bitten by mosquitoes which have come into contact with primates.

According to Estambale, changes in the weather patterns in Africa have acted as catalysts for increased mosquito breeding.

The University of Nairobi laboratory will be the first such facility in Africa.

The laboratory, to be used to train people from Eastern and Central Africa where rain forests and the grasslands act as breeding grounds for mosquitoes, is expected to be completed within two years.

"Previously, samples taken from patients with haemorrhagic fevers were sent to Europe, America or South Africa for testing. Now we handle them right here," the professor said.

Kenya

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