There is a risk Kenya losing gains made in the fight against malaria after a new species of mosquito, which spreads the disease was discovered in the country.
The species - Anopheles Stephensi was discovered by researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health’s Division of National Malaria Programme (DNMP).
The species was detected in Laisamis and Saku sub counties in Marsabit, and later confirmed at Kemri laboratory.
In a statement, KEMRI noted that the species, which spreads fast, was discovered during a routine mosquito surveillance.
“Kemri and the Ministry of Health has put in place efforts in research activities in Laimsamis and Saku Sub counties of Marsabit County where the anopheles stephansi vector samples were first detected and confirmed through laboratory essays at Kemri,” reads a section of a report by Kemri.
Kenya becomes the sixth country on the African continent to have invasion of the species.
Countries where invasion of the mosquito species has been reported include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
Experts at the institution have warned that discovery of the species might cause a surge of cases and deaths.
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According to Kenya Malaria indicator survey of 2020, prevalence of malaria in Kenya stands at 5.8 percent.
An estimated 3.5 million new clinical cases and 10,700 deaths are reported in the country every year.
“Unfortunately, the detection in Kenya, may translate to higher malaria transmission in urban and peri urban settings in the country, posing a serious threat that could reverse the gains made in the fight against malaria,” adds Kemri’s statement.
The species is reported to spread fast in different climatic conditions, risking more cases.
Also, it has the capacity to thrive in urban environments, unlike other main mosquito vectors of malaria that primarily breed in rural areas.
“Our surveillance studies indicate that the new vector, unlike the traditional malaria-causing mosquito namely anopheles gambie and anopheles funfest, is not only invasive and can spread very fast to new areas, but also adaptive to different climatic and environmental conditions,”
Further, the research institution said the species is unique as it thrives in man-made containers such as jerry cans, tyres, open tanks, sewers, cisterns, overhead tanks, and underground tanks and in polluted environments.
Kemri added in the statement that routine entomological surveillance in counties at risk of the vector is ongoing, in order to determine the extent of vector distribution and mosquito infectivity rates.
“We call on the staff and the public to continue utilising the available malaria control tools such as use of mosquito nets, repellents,, and wearing long-sleeved clothing to prevent mosquito bites,” Kemri has advised.
In a 2019 WHO identified the spread of An. Stephensi as a significant threat to malaria control elimination, particularly in Africa.
At least 95 percent of all malaria cases globally and 96 percent of deaths were found in WHO African Region.
Young African children bear the brunt of the disease, an estimated 80 percent of all malaria deaths.
According to WHO, invasion of An. Stephensi in sub Saharan Africa, where the burden of malaria is highest and over 40 percent of the population lives in urban environments, is worrying.
Data by WHO reveals that malaria causes over 400,000 deaths every year globally, with 229 million cases reported in 2019.
“While the overall contribution of Anophlese Stephensi to malaria transmission in the region is unclear, the rapid growth of many African cities, coupled with the invasion and spread of this highly efficient and adaptable malaria vector, could undermine the gains made in reducing the burden of the disease,” notes WHO.
To stop spread of the vector, WHO encourages increasing collaboration, strengthening surveillance, improving information exchange, developing guidance and priorotising research
Despite the invasion of the species, among measures put in place to fight malaria in Kenya include administering malaria vaccine (RTS,S/ASO1), which was piloted in the country alongside Ghana and Malawi.
Sleeping under treated mosquito nets has also enhanced the fight against the killer disease.
According to 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) report, 54 percent of households in the country own an Insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), an increase from 40 percent in 2015.
At least 37 percent of households have a mosquito net, for every two people who stayed in the household at night.
Children five years and 75 percent of pregnant women in households with at least one ITN, slept under an ITN the night before the survey.
“ITN ownership has been fairly steady since 2008–09, with at least half of households owning one mosquito-net, except for 2020, when 49 percent of households owned an ITN,” reads a section of KDHS report released yesterday.
The report added, “Fifty-one percent of children under five and 45 percent of pregnant women slept under an ITN the night before the survey,”
Ownership of mosquitoe nets is higher in rural areas, at 64 percent, as compared to 41 percent in urban areas.
More than 57 percent of children in rural areas slept under an ITN, as compared with 40 percent of children in urban areas.
As per the survey, ownership of mosquito nets is also higher in the lake malaria endemic zones, and highland epidemic prone zones, at 63 percent, and lowest in the seasonal 18 percent, with 19 percent ownership in low zones.
In Kenya, malaria is endemic in Nyanza, Western and Coastal regions.