The growing burden of the dengue fever virus has become an increasing public health concern in Kenya, especially in Mombasa and Lamu counties which have recorded the highest incident rate of dengue fever. According to the county department of health in Mombasa, the first Dengue fever cases were reported in early March 2021 with 24 cases testing positive out of 47 (51% positivity rate). In April, another 305 cases tested positive out of 315 (97% positivity rate). The adjacent Lamu county also reported a total of 224 positive cases from different health facilities where 59 are children under 5 years old. Cumulatively, 553 cases have been reported within the past 4 months of January, February, March and April, with a peak of cases being reported in April.
Dengue is a viral infection transmitted by female mosquitoes mainly of the Aedes aegypti, a daytime feeder, for which there are four subtypes. These mosquitoes are also vectors of Chikungunya, Yellow fever and Zika viruses. According to the Director of Preventive and Promotive Health, Mombasa County Dr. Salma Swaleh, Malaria - Chikungunya like Dengue fever symptoms has resulted in misdiagnosing cases, especially in the rural and informal settlements where access to the correct diagnostics and medical services. Additionally, the lack of Dengue test kits and appropriate sensitization on preventive and control measures have increased the response urgency to control and prevent dengue fever outbreaks.
Dengue fever virus prevention and control depend on effective vector control measures. Kenya Red Cross with support from IFRC, Ministry of Health and County Government is currently implementing Dengue Fever Outbreak Response in Mombasa and Lamu counties. The strong partnership has initiated targeted preventive and control measures to prevent an all-out outbreak that would endanger the lives of the population causing a health disaster. The intervention is targeting to directly reach 250,000 at-risk community members and 405,676 indirect beneficiaries in Mombasa and Lamu Counties reducing the risk of spread of the Dengue virus to reach 30% of the two counties’ population especially the hard-to-reach individuals through the communication of risk messaging and other preventive measures.
Kenya Red Cross has prioritized several measures including the distribution of mosquito nets to elders, pregnant women, babies and schools in hard-to-reach areas not adequately covered by the ongoing distribution by the Ministry of Health. KRCS also trained 300 volunteers to support in sensitization of households, supported 600 community health volunteers, procured 20,000 (10,000 per county) mosquito nets for distribution to vulnerable households and procured chemicals to support larviciding and spraying to destroy the mosquito larvae habitats. The society is also using community and local radio stations like Lamu FM and public address for awareness-raising in the targeted households, schools and occupational areas geared towards disease prevention and control.
“Treating dengue fever is very expensive. When I tested positive for the virus together with my baby, I was forced to use my savings to take care of my medical needs, money that would have been used to take care of my household needs. The use of mosquito nets provided by Kenya Red Cross complimented by fumigation and proper waste disposal is protecting my household from Dengue Fever”, said Agnes Wairimu, a beneficiary from Muhamarani Village, Lamu County.
According to KRCS Regional Health Focal Person, Luisalba Ngoma, to complement initial actions performed by the department of health, KRCS is working directly with communities and in coordination with local authorities and the county department of Health. The strategy is involving the training of Health Care Workers (HCWs) from government and private facilities, CHVs, Red Cross volunteers and community members on the prevention and control measures. Kenya Red Cross is also conducting awareness-raising to vulnerable populations through community-based campaigns. The community members are also reminded of COVID-19 preventive measures as per the provided MoH guidelines. The county Department of Health is coordinating the emergency response; a task force has been set up to spearhead actions aimed at controlling and containing this outbreak. The department of Health in both counties is conducting epidemiological surveillance, case detection and treatment through its network of hospitals and health centres and has kicked off mosquito net distribution to prevent Dengue, malaria, another vector-borne disease of concern, particularly in Mombasa. The national Ministry of Health is supporting the two counties with technical staff (Disease Surveillance and Case management) from Nairobi. KEMRI-Wellcome Trust is currently running the tests at its Kilifi laboratory.
By Communications Officer at the Kenya Red Cross Society, Martha Awinoh