Food insecurity is undermining progress made in treating Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Kenya.
Researchers have cited poor nutrition as one of the obstacles that is delaying treatment, even with breakthroughs made in new drug regimens that take a shorter period to heal patients.
“NTDs occur in marginalized areas and so the people are faced with the double fix of hunger and disease,” argues Mark Rotich, a medic involved in kalaazar research at the Marigat Health Center in Baringo County.
In Northern Kenya, where the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), is involved in NTDs research, the hunger stretch is already being felt amid heavy presence of humanitarian agencies.
“We are having severe malnutrition here where most of the patients are wasted, dehydrated and anaemic,” says Jasmine Tibae, a nutritionist working in Baringo County.
At Kimalel health center, the Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative (DNDi) has a treatment programme for Kalaazar, which is also one of the seven NTDs in Kenya.
According to Anderson Chelugo, the clinical officer in charge of the five year old facility, the health center admits patients for 21 to 30 days to ensure that they undergo treatment while also on good diet.
“Kalaazar patients are supposed to take high protein diet,” explains Chelugo. “But most come from very poor households where they cannot afford enriched food.”
At the same time, Tibae says patients require food that is rich in plant protein. But in an area where herding is the main economic activity, it is easy to understand why the Kimalel facility was needed by the society.
“It is easy when managing a patient at the hospital because if you discharge them they disappear but they do not adhere to drugs,” argues Tibae.
Kenya is one of the countries with a high prevalence of NTDs, while the World Health Organization (WHO) says there are about 1.4 billion infected people in the world.