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High on Marijuana, measles no problem

Health & Science

How women use bhang for treatment of measles. [Michael Mute, Standard]

For years, Linah ignored the idea of using marijuana commonly known as bhang on her children whenever they suffered from measles.

That was until her three-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with measles at a severe stage.

The mother of two from Manyatta slums in Kisumu was desperate when she met women who advised her to use marijuana.

Health & Science caught up with Linah when she was preparing the "remedy" to administer to her daughter.

Linah had boiled a mixture of marijuana leaves and seeds, sieved them to a fine liquid on a teaspoon from where she gave it to her ailing child.

"After boiling I let it cool and I gave her two teaspoons twice per day. Her health is slowly improving," says Linah.

Expressing her confidence in the concoction Linah states: "Were it not for the remedy I would have lost my child and medics had no solution to the agony of my child."

About three kilometres from Linah's is Caroline's home. Her kitchen garden has certain plants whose leaves she rubs between his hands, sniffs.

"These leaves treat measles," she says.

Apart from using it on all her four children, Caroline sells the weed to other women at Sh50 a "dose."

Of interest is Mary, 50. She is considered a community 'doctor' for the past 20 years because she has treated children who have been suspected of having measles or diagnosed with it in hospital.

Though recreational marijuana is illegal in Kenya, parents still visit Mary to treat their children who are suffering from measles.

Most of her clients come from the informal settlements of Nyalenda, Obunga, Kondele and Manyatta.

"This drug is effective and many parents trust it," says Mary.

She was attending to a child of a desperate mother who had come to her.

She rolls bhang in to a cigarette, lights it up, takes a few puffs then blows the smoke into the nose, ears, mouth and armpit of the baby.

"After three days, the baby won't be sick anymore it is the only solution we have for measles," offers Caroline.

Mary says getting bhang is not easy because the substance is illegal.

"I have a network of suppliers and at times, they fail to deliver because they fear they will get arrested," she said.

For parents who find bhang smoke unpleasant, Mary gives them an alternative: burn the dried bhang in a container, and put it and the baby under a blanket. It is suffocating but in the process, it cures the baby."

So how does marijuana treat measles?

"Victims vomit with increased rush on first day of dosage," said Mary.

"This means its working and day two sees some relief. In some cases, babies diarrhea, and over-the-counter or prescription drugs are not to be given tot to the child even painkillers."

Mary cautions that "over use of weed is not good as it causes drowsiness and headaches."

However, Dr Josephine Ojigo, a pediatrician and Head of Pediatrics, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTH) in Kisumu, discourages women from using marijuana and other herbs for treating measles and urges them to seek proper medical attention as "they expose their children to possible harm using such remedies."

Dr Ojigo says though a hypothesis exists about the medicinal value of marijuana, more research needs to be carried out to ascertain its efficacy but until then "it is important to seek medical help once a child is infected by measles."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines measles as an acute viral respiratory illness characterised by extremely high fever, coughing, conjunctivitis (pink eye), general feeling of illness and coryza (inflammation of the mucous membrane in the nose).

According to the Ministry of Health, Kenya registered an active outbreak of measles in 22 counties between October 2019 and June 2021.

Data from the National Vaccines and Immunisation Programme at the Ministry of Health shows that in 2000, measles was the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in children. It is currently the third after pneumococcal and rotavirus.

At the same time, measles-rubella is the leading cause of congenital defects. Rubella is an acute contagious viral infection that causes a mild fever and rash in children and adults.

Infection during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, can result in miscarriage, foetal death, stillbirth or infants with congenital malformations, which are known as congenital rubella syndrome.

This disease spreads through the air via respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing by infected persons.

In most cases, symptoms begin to show from the tenth to 14th day after exposure. A red, flat rash that usually starts on the face and then spreads to the rest of the body mainly begins three to five days after the start of symptoms.

WHO says the first sign of measles is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 to 12 days after exposure to the virus, and lasts four to seven days.

Children who have not been vaccinated against measles are at a high risk of getting infected and even dying from this disease, warns WHO.

The world health body adds that majority of deaths related to measles come out of the complications which are associated with the disease and "serious complications are more common in children under the age of five or adults over the age of 30."

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