NAIROBI/NEW YORK—The international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), health authorities, and other partners continue their response to a major cholera outbreak in Kenya that has spread to 10 of the country’s 47 counties. The outbreak, which began in January, has killed 72 people, according to official figures.
Though treatable, cholera is easily spread, and MSF is concerned that the outbreak could worsen and last much longer due to high population mobility and congested living conditions in the most-affected parts of the capital, Nairobi.
"MSF is particularly worried about the scale and the spread of the epidemic in Nairobi due to the high population density, particularly as it is now diffused in almost all sub-counties and informal settlements of the city," said William Hennequin, MSF head of mission in Kenya.
"In Nairobi, although the number of cases fluctuates every other day, MSF teams at the cholera treatment centers inside the ministry of health facilities are seeing an average of 200 patients per week."
Cholera is a water-borne acute gastrointestinal infection. Spread by contaminated water or food, cholera causes profuse diarrhea and vomiting. Many sufferers die of profound dehydration, sometimes within a matter of hours. Most patients can be treated using oral rehydration solution, which is a mixture of water, glucose, and electrolytes (sodium and potassium). In more serious cases, fluids and electrolytes are administered by intravenous infusion.
Since the beginning of the current outbreak in January 2015, MSF has worked with county governments to deal with the epidemic. MSF has set up four cholera units in Nairobi and is supporting 47 facilities in eight counties (Migori, Homa Bay, Bomet, Nakuru, Nairobi, Muranga, Kiambu, and Embu), providing care and treatment to more than 4,200 patients. MSF has more than 300 medical and non-medical staff members responding to the current outbreak. MSF has also has donated supplies including rehydration solution, gloves, soaps, and water tanks in situations where government or partners had limited capacity to do so.
MSF remains ready to intervene in new locations of the country if needed.
MSF has been working in Kenya since 1987. The organization is currently running medical activities in Mathare and Kibera in Nairobi, with a focus on sexual and gender-based violence care, as well as HIV and drug resistant TB. In Kibera, MSF manages an impatient maternity ward and an ambulance service for obstetric and other emergencies. In Homa Bay, MSF runs an HIV program. MSF also works in Dahagaley refugee camp in Dadaab, providing hospital and primary health care.