by Peter Mutai
NAIROBI, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) -- The threat posed by emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases especially viruses are causing fear amongst veterinary and medical scientists in Kenya.
The scientists who are meeting in Nairobi have now agreed to work as a team to accurately and rapidly give proper diagnosis in case of an outbreak in the future.
The agreement were reached late on Thursday following the recent past outbreaks due to viruses such as Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in 2006 – 2007, the gangue outbreak in 2011 and the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, a country that borders Kenya to the west.
"Since most of these diseases are zoonotic in nature, the coming together as one team will bring the much needed synergy in addressing prevention and control of these disease," said Dr. Willis Akhwale, head of the Department of Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Public Health.
He underscored the importance of mainstreaming virology in health care to bring capacity in diagnostics and operational research.
Speaking during the Medical and Veterinary Virus Research Symposium, the scientists agreed that efforts to understand the transmission as well as dynamics of these viruses require a collaborative approach.
According to Dr. Rosemary Sang of the Center for Virus Research Program at Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the viruses circulate in Kenya among wild animals, and many causes disease following spill over transmission to humans and livestock.
She noted that the frequency of other hemorrhagic fever outbreaks that includes Ebola and Marburg in the region in the absence of sufficient data on the virus ecology presents additional challenge that must be tackled by a combined force of scientists.
Sang observed that the first outbreak of yellow fever and the devastating outbreak of Rift Valley Fever that swept across the east African region in late 1990s brought about the realization that arbovirus had re-emerged in the region.
"There are gaps that call for the involvement of east African researchers and public health officials to ensure preparedness for a further outbreak," she added.She called for the involvement of young scientists so that they could showcase their research capability under the guidance of the senior scientists.
"Lack of appropriate diagnostic tick tools complicates the research on the implication of viruses to human health," a scientist at KEMRI Dr. Joel Lutomiah said.
He called for the development of appropriate diagnostic tools for the detection of tick borne diseases in humans.
The cost of post exposure prophylaxis injection and their subsequent unavailability in public health facilities is forcing people bitten by dogs to avoid seeking medication.
"People bitten by dogs require four injections of post exposure prophylaxis as soon as they are bitten but unfortunately the dosage amounts to about 88 U.S. dollars, amount that poor people are unable to afford," said Dr. Geoffrey Lokoel, a Public Health Field Epidemiology and Laboratory technologist in Kisumu City.
He revealed that most dog owners enter into private arrangements whereby people bitten by their dogs are paid off and they end up not seeking medical attention from health facilities.
Lokoel observed that the area lacks health education yet it has 16,000 roaming dogs that continue to threaten the residents. He said that eight people were bitten by rabid dogs and this caused 357 human exposures in January this year.
"The 54.9 percent of males were bitten compared to 45.1 percent of females, bites that occurred amongst person aged 6 – 16 years," he said.
Dr. Mark Wamalwa from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) lamented that there is no organized way of storage of research information in Kenya.
He noted that besides storing records, the government has failed to store research in different fields of science. "Scientists miss data for research in a centralized place due to lack of clear policy," he noted.
Wamalwa noted that it was unfortunate that as most countries develop science and technology, Kenya lacks data on informatics yet it plays a key role in the development of a country.
He observed that besides the innovation of M-Pesa (money transfer system) in Kenya, the software development in the country is far much behind.
He revealed that only University of Nairobi offers a fully fledged degree discipline in bioinformatics while Kenyatta, Maseno, Egerton and Jomo Kenyatta Universities offers it as sub component of the discipline.
"This is the reason why Kenya is lagging behind in pharmaceutical and agriculture research and development," he said.
He challenged scientist in the region to apply bioinformatics in research and ensure that the governments enact its policy that is still lacking in Kenya and most of the regional countries.
The scientists called for the increase in surveillance along the common borders with the neighboring countries adding that most viruses enter into the country from Somali and Uganda.