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Kenya among countries to benefit from new efforts to end cholera outbreaks

Friday April 12, 2024

Kenya is expected to benefit from a global programme that will see millions of cholera test kits distributed around the world.

Shipments of the first kits, about 1.2 million, were distributed this week in 14 high risk countries.

The donor, Gavi, said countries that will receive kits in the coming weeks include those currently severely impacted by cholera outbreaks.

The list excludes Kenya, which has expressed interest for the kits, but is currently not facing an outbreak.

Gavi said countries that expressed interest but were not included in the first shipments will receive the kits in the future.

This programme, the largest such effort in the world, will improve the timeliness and accuracy of outbreak detection and response by boosting routine surveillance and testing capacity and helping rapidly identify probable cholera cases.

“Critically, it will also help countries monitor trends and build an evidence base for future preventive programmes, supporting the achievement of national cholera control and elimination targets,” Gavi said.

Kenya last reported cholera outbreak last year.

In  August last year, Medical epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health Emmanuel Okunga said 11,897 cases were reported in 26 counties since the outbreak began in October 2022. It claimed 194 lives.

"Timely detection of cholera cases and prompt initiation of treatment is key in reducing morbidity, mortality and containing transmission," Okunga said.

The ongoing global cholera diagnostics programme is funded and coordinated by Gavi while procurement and delivery to countries is led by Unicef in collaboration with the Global Task Force on Cholera Control and World Health Organization.

“These initial shipments signal the start of the programme, which aims to see partners deploy RDTs to additional countries that have expressed interest in the future. Long-term sustainability of the programme depends on successful fundraising for Gavi’s next strategic period, from 2026 to 2030,” Gavi said.

The 14 initial countries are Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Syria, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Cholera has been surging globally since 2021, with high case fatality rates despite availability of simple, effective and affordable treatment.

The large number of outbreaks has led to unprecedented demand for vaccines from impacted countries.

Kenya started Cholera vaccinations in February last year and by August, the Ministry of Health said it had surpassed its target of vaccinating 1.59 million people in eight high-risk counties.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection that spreads through food and water contaminated with faeces containing the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The rise in cholera is driven by continued gaps in access to safe water and sanitation and failure to quickly detect outbreaks and limit their spread.

While global oral cholera vaccine supply has increased eighteen-fold between 2013 and 2023, the large and sustained spike in demand compared to the current availability has put a strain on the global stockpile.

“Preventive vaccination campaigns have had to be delayed to preserve doses for emergency outbreak response efforts,” Gavi said.

"Recurring outbreaks in countries where emergency vaccination campaigns have already been implemented further highlight the need for improved speed and accuracy in identifying areas with new or persistent transmission – enabling these areas to be targeted during initial outbreak response efforts."

In February, Migori county confirmed a cholera outbreak after an infected mourner crossed over from Tanzania and fell sick in Kenya.

County health services executive Awuor Nyerere said they are on high alert and they have put in place community health volunteers, ward admins, village elders, chiefs and their assistants to help in report cases and trace contacts.


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