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Massive cholera vaccination to prevent deaths

 A residnt of Nairobi's Mathare slum gets an Oral Cholera Vaccine during a previous mass vaccination drive. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The Ministry of Health is planning to roll out massive Oral Cholera Vaccination (OCV) in eight counties in response to the outbreak reported in the country.

The 1,533,199 doses will be administered in eight counties referred to as epicentre of the disease.

The counties include Homa Bay (Suba South), Kajiado (Kajiado East), Marsabit (Moyale), Nairobi (Kamukunji and Embakasi Central), Wajir (Wajir North), Mandera (Mandera East), Machakos, and Garissa.

However, in Machakos, the ministry will concentrate on vaccinating the residents of the GK Prison Camp and the School for the Deaf, whereas in Garissa, the focus will be new arrivals at the Dadaab refugee camp.

The vaccination exercise will run in the next ten days from August 3 to August 12.

At least 11,181 cholera cases have reported and 196 deaths across 26 counties in the past 10 months.

"The outbreak has taken a toll on our communities, causing immense suffering and loss. The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) has reached 1.7 percent, underscoring the severity of the situation.

We cannot stand idly by while our people continue to face the threat of this preventable and treatable disease," said Public Health PS Mary Muriuki, in a statement read on her behalf by Deputy Director General Dr Sultana Matendechero.

Muriuki said the vaccine is a critical step to bring an end to the ongoing cholera outbreak that first surfaced in the country in October last year.

The PS added that the 11,181 cases and 196 deaths serve as a stark reminder of an urgent need for action and reinforce our determination to combat the acute bacterial disease.

Additionally, Muriuki said in response to the cholera crisis, the ministry has finalized the Kenya National Multisectoral Cholera Elimination Plan for 2022-2030.

The plan outlines comprehensive strategies to combat the spread of cholera, which includes the use of Oral Cholera Vaccines as recommended by the Kenya National Immunization Technical Advisory Group.

The ministry launched the first round of vaccination in February 2023, where 2.2 million people aged above one year were vaccinated in the counties of Nairobi, Garissa, Tana River, and Wajir, with 99.2 percent coverage administratively.

On his part, Dr Matendechero said it has been difficult to contain the disease because it spreads fast, and is highly infectious.

"As much as we are saying the numbers have gone down, you might find that tomorrow we have hundreds of people because it spreads so fast," said Matendechero.

Matendechero assured the public of the safety of the vaccine, with at least more than 100 million doses of OCV having been used over the past few years globally in a mass vaccination campaign.

Unicef supported the procurement, shipment, clearance and delivery of the Oral Cholera vaccine to the national cold store for further distribution to the focal counties, procurement and distributed cholera rapid diagnostic test kits.

Dr Abba Umar, Health Specialist Unicef Kenya said while vaccination is a critical component in containing cholera, there is need to revamp sanitation and supply of clean water to the population.

Apart from vaccination support, Unicef has supported more than a million people with access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

"Unicef is working with the government to ensure that all schools and healthcare facilities, including therapeutic feeding centres, have water supply, sanitation, and hygiene services," said Umar.

According to Unicef, cholera affects the urban poor disproportionally, due to challenges in the availability of safe drinking water and sanitation, contributing to the spread of the cholera outbreak through contaminated water and food.

Umar reiterated on the importance of access to clean drinking water and scale up of sanitation facilities to contain the spread of the disease.

Despite availability of the vaccines, sanitation and supply of clean water in critical in controlling cholera, according to Dr Umar.

"The vaccines do not replace other key interventions for cholera prevention and control. It is a complementary measure to reduce the transmission of cholera in "hot spot" areas, and it must be implemented along with access to potable water and other hygiene and sanitation measures at community level as well as long-term improvements in WASH infrastructure," said Dr Umar.

He encouraged washing of hands regularly using soap and water, and use of safe water (disinfected, boiled or bottled) for drinking, washing fruit and vegetables and cooking.

Unicef encouraged the population to cook food thoroughly, and that mothers should continuous to breastfeed infants and young children, as breastfeeding is always the safest source of nutrition for infants and young children, especially during a cholera outbreak.

Further, Umar asked individuals presenting with symptoms should seek medical examination and treatment.

"If you or a loved one have diarrhoea/vomiting, immediately give Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), which is very important as drinking water alone is not enough for someone who is dehydrated to recover. In case the symptoms persist, please seek medical care in the nearest health facility promptly," said Umar.

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