By Gift Briton

Kenya has made tremendous progress in elimination and control of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) over the last ten years, Dr. Wyckliff Omondi, Head of the Division of Vector Borne &NTDs, at the Ministry of Health said during the annual world NTDs Day celebrations.

Dr. Omondi noting that Kenya has managed to eliminate Guinea-worm disease, added that there are ongoing efforts to end geared towards ending other four NTDs that are common in the country.

These include schistosomiasis (bilharzia), soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) also called intestinal worms, lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and trachoma.

Dr. Wyckliff Omondi, Head division of vector borne and NTDs

In the area of lymphatic filariasis, a mapping exercise of the disease showed it is not a public health threat outside the coastal region, he said, adding that the country started the fight against the disease in 2015 where the program was able to reach 23 out of 26 sub counties reaching a total of 17,698,771 people in the coastal region.

A triple therapy intervention implemented in the other three sub-counties has led to elimination of the disease in those sub-counties, according to a research carried out by Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).

In the spirit of the World Health Organization(WHO)’s 2021-2030 global road map that calls countries to eliminate at least one NTDs by 2030, Dr. Omondi stated that Kenya is on course to eliminate elephantiasis by 2026.

He said that due to progress made in the area of blinding trachoma, treatment has been stopped in five out of the 12 endemic counties. Further, treatment is continuing in the other counties and 9,220,390 people were treated.

With bilharzia and intestinal worms being the most prevalent, occurring in about 27 counties, he said the government is devising a new strategy which targets entire communities and not just school going children like before.

Dr. Omondi revealed that though the ministry had embarked on a school based program for these diseases, it was ineffective towards elimination of these diseases due to inadequate data on the currency and distribution to show areas that require treatment.

The new program, which targets community mass treatment, had been piloted in the counties of Homa- bay and Migori in the Nyanza region and was later rolled out in the coastal region. It proved effective, reaching four million people with bilharzia and 11 million people with intestinal worms in both regions.

Dr. Omondi added that the key gaps that are still existing in the fight against bilharzia and intestinal worms is the ability to know where the burden lies and that it requires precision mapping which has only been done in the two regions.

Dr. Sultani Matendechero

According to Dr. Sultani Matendechero, Head Kenya National Public Health Institute/ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (NPHI/CDC), Kenya is the first country to come up with elimination of bilharzia strategy. However, One the problems with this strategy is that there was no medicine for children under five years and the tablet used to treat the disease was too big and bitter.

The ministry together with a cocktail of other organizations, came together to develop a bilharzia drug that can be reconstituted with water and administered to children below five years. This tablet it will not be as bitter as the one previously administered, he affirmed.

Furthermore, the drug is already developed and is set to be rolled out in the next three years adding that the medicine will make bilharzia elimination in Kenya a reality.

According to Dr. Matendechero, before 2018, Kenya used to record high cases of snake bites and death due to insufficient anti-venom medicines in the country and lack of knowledge by health care workers to treat snake bites.

This challenge prompted the ministry to come up with a new strategy that saw health care workers trained on how to handle snake bites. The government also registered three anti -venom drugs which speeded up the treatment of snake bite in the country. Since then death related to snake bites has drastically reduced, he said.

With the country now focusing on sustainable control of NTDs, Dr. Matendechero reinstated the government’s commitments to continue supporting activities that are being undertaken towards elimination and control of NTDs.

Finally, he called upon key stakeholders and donors to put in more resources towards NTDs control until that time when the country will be able to eliminate the last NTD.