Cholera kills nine people in Nairobi slum

Friday October 23 2009

Patients (above and right) wait at Medical Missionaries  Mary Hospital of  Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa Njenga on Friday after a cholera outbreak. Photo/JAMES NJUGUNA

Patients (above and right) wait at Medical Missionaries Mary Hospital of Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa Njenga on Friday after a cholera outbreak. Photo/JAMES NJUGUNA 

By JOY WANJA

At least nine people have died of cholera in a Nairobi slum. Sixty others were being treated on Friday.

The staff of a mission hospital near Mukuru kwa Njenga said the first cases were reported on Monday, but there was a dramatic increase on Friday.

When the Saturday Nation visited Medical Missionaries of Mary Hospital on Friday, more than 60 people complained of stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Ms Peninah Nzuki, a community health worker, was first alerted of the killer disease by a neighbour on Monday. She then took to hospital the first patient, a one-year-old child, but he died while being treated.

“The water is dirty and the levels of hygiene are poor, thus the disease is spreading fast,” she told the Saturday Nation.

According to the hospital’s project coordinator, Ms Elizabeth Bundala, the first case was reported on Monday, but the number increased on Thursday evening.

“The outbreak is serious, almost as bad as one 10 years ago,” she said.

On Friday, a woman died after complaining of dizziness and vomiting the previous night.

Ms Mary Bahati, a vegetable vendor, responded to the cries of her neighbour, identified only as Rose, after a friend alerted her that he had heard someone vomiting next door.

“She was all alone in the house but she died before we arrived at the hospital,” said Ms Bahati.

According to the hospital administrator, two children below two years died on Monday and Tuesday, and more remained at risk due to the open sewers in the slum.

Roadside eating places are erected on sewers and children freely play near raw sewage, oblivious of the risk. “Last night, we treated 20 people complaining of diarrhoea and stomach pains,” Ms Bundala said.

She cited lack of drugs to treat the huge number of patients, though they made a referral to the nearby Alice Hospital and another to Kenyatta National Hospital on Friday evening.

Medical staff at the mission hospital were overwhelmed and were forced to postpone ante-natal and tuberculosis clinics.

A surveillance team from the district public health office later arrived and mobilised a team to spray the drainage.

Most residents blamed the situation on a water shortage, which had forced them to compromise on sanitation standards.

By noon yesterday, public health officials had given five tablets a household to treat drinking water.

Cholera is an acute diarrhoea infection caused by the ingestion of the bacterium, vibrio cholerae. Transmission occurs through contaminated food or drinking water.

The disease is characterised in its most severe form by a sudden onset of acute watery diarrhoea, that can lead to death through dehydration and kidney failure.

The extremely short incubation period — two hours to five days — enhances the potentially explosive pattern of outbreaks. It is an extremely virulent disease, and can kill an adult within hours.

Doctors at the hospital were administering oral rehydration salts and antibiotics to enable the patients to regain lost fluids and energy.

The residents pointed an accusing fingers at tankers that purport to sell clean drinking water yet, they said, it is contaminated.

“I ate maandazi and now I can hardly walk due to stomach pains,” said Ms Teresia Nduta, a shopkeeper.