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Deadly Meningitis Outbreaks In Drought-Stricken Kenya, Uganda

West Pokot, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northwest of Nairobi, is inhabited by nomadic pastoralists badly hit by the drought that threatens millions with starvation across east Africa.
by Staff Writers
Nairobi (AFP) Feb 07, 2006
At least 12 people have died in the past two weeks from an outbreak of meningitis in drought-stricken northern Kenya, officials said Tuesday, warning of an epidemic of the fatal disease.

Kenya's health ministry reported 57 cases of meningitis, 12 of them fatal, since late January in West Pokot district near the border with Uganda, which is struggling to contain an outbreak that has killed 23 people since December.

"If action is not taken, this can spread fast," said Thomas Ogaro, head of the ministry's communicable disease division.

West Pokot, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northwest of Nairobi, is inhabited by nomadic pastoralists badly hit by the drought that threatens millions with starvation across east Africa.

Herders were forced to move further than usual in search of water and pasture for their livestock, which increased the chances of the illness spreading, he said.

The government has sent medical supplies and a team of specialists to West Pokot, although local leaders say the response is not adequate and dispute the official death toll.

"The disease is rampant," Ibrahim Domongole, pastor of the Kasei African Inland Church, told AFP, adding that at least 30 people had died from meningitis. "The government says it is contained but it is not."

In neighboring Uganda, where 330 cases and 23 fatalities have been reported in the northeast since December 28, the health ministry and it had begun a mass immunization drive to stave off the spread of the meningitis.

"We have embarked on a universal immunization of all people in (two districts)," Dr. Sam Okware, director of health services at the ministry told AFP, adding that 300,000 people were being targetted in the campaign.

Meningitis, a bacterial infection of the brain and spine, spreads through direct contact.

Common symptoms include headache, fever and vomiting. Despite early diagnosis and treatment nearly 10 percent of cases are fatal.

However, treatment for many in remote areas was difficult as access to clinics was limited and large numbers of people suffering from malnutrition were unfit to travel to hospitals, Domongole said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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