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Trans Nzoia County Grapples with Neglected Tropical Diseases, Media Urged to Join Fight

Trans Nzoia County Grapples with Neglected Tropical Diseases, Media Urged to Join Fight

Trans Nzoia County battles neglected tropical diseases, urging local media to amplify public education efforts and support eradication initiatives.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are posing a significant threat to residents of Kenya’s Trans Nzoia County, prompting health officials to urge local media to step up public education efforts.

Paul Ndung’u of the Africa Institute of Health and Development spoke at a forum today in Kitale, highlighting the urgency of curbing the spread of NTDs. “These diseases have been neglected for far too long,” he said, “yet they continue to impact the health of our population.”

Bilharzia, soil-transmitted helminths, and river blindness are the most prevalent NTDs in Trans Nzoia. Ndung’u expressed particular concern that 23 wards in the county are battling soil-transmitted helminths, despite the availability of effective treatment at local health facilities.

“We want to call upon local media stations to assist us in disseminating information on NTDs,” Ndung’u said. “It’s crucial for our people to understand that these diseases are treatable.”

Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is a parasitic disease contracted through contact with contaminated freshwater, with Keiyo ward in Kwanza Sub County leading with a prevalence rate of 2.0%. People who fish, farm rice, bathe, or swim in stagnant water are at high risk, according to Ndung’u. School children, farmers, fishermen, and women involved in water-related activities are particularly vulnerable. Bilharzia can cause severe health complications, including blood in urine or stool, pain during urination or intercourse, and pelvic pain.

Fortunately, several measures can be taken to prevent and control bilharzia. These include using toilets for proper waste disposal, wearing protective clothing when working in stagnant water, freshwater snail control programs, avoiding stagnant water bodies, and mass drug administration with praziquantel.

Soil-transmitted helminths, also known locally as “Minyoo,” are intestinal worms spread through contaminated soil, as outlined by Ndung’u. Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms are the three main types. Open defecation, poor handwashing practices, and consuming unwashed fruits and vegetables are the primary ways these worms spread. Children and adults are both susceptible to infection.

Simple hygiene practices can significantly reduce the risk of Minyoo infection, according to Ndung’u. These practices include washing hands thoroughly with soap and running water, washing hands before preparing food, using toilets, washing fruits and vegetables, wearing shoes, and drinking treated water. Regular deworming with medication like Mebendazole or Albendazole is also crucial for control.

River blindness, or onchocerciasis, is a debilitating parasitic disease transmitted through the bites of infected black flies found near fast-flowing rivers, explained Ndung’u. This disease causes severe itching, skin disfigurement, and ultimately, permanent blindness. Areas around the foothills of Mt. Elgon, Kakamega forest, and Vihiga County are particularly affected by river blindness in Kenya.

Residents living near rivers can protect themselves from river blindness by using insect repellents, wearing long-sleeved clothing, and participating in community-based vector control programs that use insecticides to control blackfly populations, as advised by Ndung’u. Annual treatment with ivermectin for 12 to 15 years is the primary treatment for river blindness.

Ndung’u emphasized the media’s critical role in raising awareness about NTDs. “By working together, healthcare professionals, media organizations, and communities can combat NTDs and ensure a healthier future for the people of Trans Nzoia County,” he concluded.

The event was also attended by Ann Limo and Mercy Obonyo from the department of health, who reaffirmed the county government’s commitment towards eradicating the diseases.