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Vets call for concerted efforts to curb zoonotic diseases

 Annually, 59,000 people across the world die from rabies and in Kenya, it is estimated that about 2,000 people die from the disease. [iStockphoto]

An estimated two billion people are affected by zoonotic diseases and another two million people die from these diseases across the globe.

Experts made the revelation during a forum organised by VSFSuisse in Rumuruti to deliberate on the importance of the One-Health approach in safeguarding the lives of people, livestock, and the environment.

Zoonotic diseases are transmitted from animals to humans and include rabies, anthrax, brucellosis, Covid-19 (coronavirus), Barine TB among others.

An officer from the Directorate of Veterinary Services at the Zoonotic Disease Unit Dr Khadija Chepkorir, said their goal is to reduce zoonotic diseases and other one-health threats like antimicrobial resistance.

“Annually, 59,000 people across the world die from rabies and in Kenya, it is estimated that about 2,000 people die from the disease. Surveillance data for the last three years indicates that about 100 cases of rabies are reported annually in the country. It is also estimated that about 10 outbreaks of anthrax cases occur and when they happen, three or five animals may be affected and end up dying,” Dr Chepkorir explained.

According to the vet, the recent outbreak of anthrax in Murang’a saw a farmer lose two cows worth Sh200,000 each.

“In an outbreak where people are affected, we have as many as 400 households affected. Every year, there are suspected cases of people affected by anthrax ranging in thousands, mostly cutaneous anthrax where there are lesions on the skin because of handling an animal that had anthrax,” she said.

Brucellosis is more widespread. From 2021, 2022, and 2023 data, there are about 100,000 cases of suspected brucellosis contracted from taking poorly boiled milk and meat.

Dr Chepkorir and a team of other experts were in Rumuruti to sensitise the county leadership on the benefits of the one-health approach as one of the steps in establishing the Samburu county One-Health unit.

“The one-health approach is key in ensuring that we optimize how each of the sectors work so that we can safeguard the health of the animals, humans, and the environment since their health is interlinked,” she said. 

Prof George Gitau from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Nairobi said zoonotic diseases are very important at the human, livestock, and wildlife interface.

“One of the neglected zoonotic diseases is Bovine Tuberculosis which is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis and mainly affects the respiratory and lymphatic system of cattle. Other species can be affected including human beings,” said Prof Gitau.

He said they have done two studies within East Africa; one in Kenya and another in South Sudan. In the Kenyan study where they analysed and skimmed over 1,500 samples collected across the counties, they established that there is some degree of exposure to Bovine Tuberculosis.

The disease can be transmitted from cattle to human beings.

They established that there was no prevalence of Bovine Tuberculosis within the pastoral communities in Wajir, Kajiado, and Laikipia compared to counties that practice agro-pastoralism or mixed forms of agriculture.

Gitau urged communities that live close to animals especially in the pastoral communities to exercise caution and work closely with vet authorities. Those working in slaughterhouses should also be cautious and report to relevant authorities any unusual signs in animals.

Dr Chepkorir advised pastoralists and the communities to prevent zoonotic diseases by ensuring that their animals are vaccinated.

“There is also need to report to veterinary officers when diseases are occurring in their community so that the right treatment is administered and control measures are put so that it does not spread. It is also good to avoid some of the risk practices that expose them to getting these diseases. For instance, an animal that is sick should not be consumed and also one that has died needs to be buried to avoid the spread of the disease,” she said. 

Samburu county Health CEC Nasir Lekudeti said the One-Health unit programme is a multi-sectoral approach that needs to address the balance between the animals, the people, and the ecosystem.

"In Samburu, we have challenges of people feeding on carcasses of un-inspected meat and have been having outbreaks of food poisoning as a result of that, hence the need to work as one team to address the issues, especially from animals, environment, and people," said Dr Lekudeti.

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