Kisumu County

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has released Sh120 million to help eradicate fresh disease threats around Lake Victoria.

Recently, reserachers raised a fresh alert over bilharzias infections in the region and the cash is aimed at eradicating the disease.

The recent scientific research report showed at least three of five people, especially in Nyanza, suffer from the disease. It also said the situation could be worse at some communities.

Chief research officer at Kenya Medical Research/Centre for Disease Control (Kemri/CDC) bilharzia department Dr Diana Karanja confirmed the foundation had given out the money to help eradicate the waterborne parasite, schistosomiasis.

"The prevalence of schistosomiasis around the lake region is nearly 100 per cent," said Mrs Karanja.

HIGH rate of infection

She added that this was largely because many area residents who bathe in the lakes, rivers, dams, wells or freshwater pools that have not been chlorinated are oblivious of the risks.

"The aim of the study is to investigate the prevalence of the disease in the affected communities and find out how we can best reduce the high affection rate," she said.

With the funding, scientists are expected to kick the disease out of the region. Already, 250 schools have been identified for the sensitisation campaigns to start next year.

Karanja said they would put more attention to fight the disease because for many years it was neglected and much attention given to HIV/Aids.

Dr Erick Muok of Kemri/CDC said the disease was now becoming a major burden on the region economy.

Bilharzia are caused by infestation by a type of flatworm, or fluke (parasite). Fluke larvae are released by freshwater snails. These larvae penetrate the human skin and mature into adults. Female flukes may lay eggs that cause inflammation.

Other possible symptoms include muscle pain, headache, diarrhoea, fever, vomiting, coughing, and a burning sensation when passing urine.

Untreated bilharzia may cause life-threatening urinary system or liver damage, bladder tumours and bowel cancer.

Currently, patients in the area pay between Sh100 and Sh200 for treatment, which some have said, is way beyond their reach.