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Kenya: RVF Caught Government With All Its Pants Down

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  • Kenya: RVF Caught Government With All Its Pants Down

    Kenya: RVF Caught Government With All Its Pants Down
    The East African Standard (Nairobi)
    ANALYSIS of DR Imre Loefler
    The advertisements various ministries placed in the newspapers over the Rift Valley Fever could have been well intentioned. But the explanations and advice they gave were unsatisfactory.

    Rift Valley Fever is a zoonosis that affects some wild ruminants and domestic stock.

    Among the latter, the most vulnerable are sheep and cattle.

    Camels and goats are less susceptible.

    Ingesting the virus may be a rare mode of infection and, therefore, meat should be handled with care and thoroughly cooked.
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    But inspection is not helpful in preventing the spread of the disease because the meat of infected animals looks unremarkable.

    The common mode of transmission is by vector: Mosquitoes.

    Unfortunately, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different species of mosquitoes that spread the disease and many are diurnal feeders.

    As a result, sleeping under a mosquito net will provide very partial protection.

    Repellents, particularly those applied on the skin, are more effective.

    Sleeping under mosquito nets is recommended because they are effective in preventing malaria because the vectors are exclusively nocturnal feeders.

    Rift Valley Fever vaccines are available, but so far only for veterinary use.

    Quarantine that the Veterinary Department initially adopted is a time-honoured measure, but in the case of Rift Valley Fever, its effectiveness is limited, particularly in regard to domestic stock alone, for people also carry the virus.

    Moreover, infection takes a few days and neither people nor ruminants host the virus for long.

    The virus survives from one epidemic to the other in the soil, where egg and virus may endure for years.

    The larvae develop in water.

    When the land is inundated, mosquitoes hatch in unimaginable numbers.

    When the adult mosquito emerges, it may contain the virus, which the females may transmit with the very first meal.

    Many people get infected, but only few get severely ill and even fewer die.

    It is important that people seek medical help early, but it should be understood that there is no special treatment available.

    On reading the adverts, one notices that in addition to health education and reassurance, the adverts also contain propaganda. The Government is blowing its trumpet, enumerating the good things it has done to contain the epidemic. Trouble is, it took the Government two months to mount the response.

    The Meteorological Department gave an early warning. The forecast turned out to be remarkably accurate.

    Key information about Rift Valley Fever, including epidemic occurrence in years of heavy rains, is in textbooks.

    The mobilisation of personnel and resources, the arrangements necessary to cope with the epidemic, should have been in place before the rains broke and the vaccination campaign should have been in full swing.

    The cost of the Rift Valley Fever to the affected communities, livestock sector, meat industry, exports and the economy will be astronomical.

    An early, pre-emptive campaign would have minimised the cost.

    Epidemics affecting humans, livestock and crops are not merely natural phenomena. A virus causes Rift Valley Fever, but the dynamics of the epidemic are shaped by human behaviour. Government response is ultimately responsible for the course the epidemic has taken.

    The deadly fever has another aspect related to lack of understanding of the country's north. No Government, colonial or post-colonial, made an effort to study and understand the arid lands on the northern half of the country.

    The image of the north, instead of being based on knowledge, consists of prejudices: Inhospitable climate full of bugs and beasts, a place inhabited by unruly and warring tribes, a perennial source of trouble, from insecurity to epidemics.

    But the fact is that the natural resources of the north, especially its biological ones, are considerable and if well harnessed could add wealth to the economy.

    Harnessing the resources would include monitoring ecosystems and appropriate and timely response to events. This is how science is absorbed into salutary action: Predictable phenomena must be recognised and responses mounted.

    Ironically, the adverts warned people that on noticing the illness, they should take appropriate action early. One wishes the Government had done just that. By now the paddles have dried up. An inestimable number of mosquito eggs are buried in the ground, an unknown proportion of them harbouring the virus.

    Unless the virus manages to establish itself in urban areas by adaptation, the virus will disappear from the blood of animals and man alike, waiting for the next opportunity to proliferate.

    Will the Government formulate a master plan of what it will do when heavy rains and floods are forecast in the north?

    Mosquito eggs and the virus have a plan.

    The writer died on Sunday but had already sent the article