DESPITE DEPLORABLE conditions that Kenyan doctors and nurses work in, sometimes it takes a doctor with a special heart to choose whether to let hundreds of babies die or live or to join colleagues on strike.
That choice is not always easy as colleagues tend to single one out as a traitor.
In the half empty corridors of Merti Health Centre, where the rains have not been sighted for the last two years, parents hold their children some crying while others are too weak to play.
Sometimes, the mothers cry too as they painfully watch the lives of their babies fade away.
The over four months’ nurses strike impact is evident; no signs of a nurse passing by are seen.
Here, these children are suffering from Ka-alazar (Leishmaniosis), a neglected parasitic disease transmitted by sand fly which lives in termite hills.
I meet Ajaba Kanoye from Korbesa village holding her one year-old and eighth-month baby, who suffers from Ka-alazar.
“My baby started having symptoms like those of Malaria and also her upper stomach was swollen, she became worse and I decided to try my luck here. Luckily, I found the doctor who took blood samples and confirmed that the baby had the disease. Am glad that she is now on treatment but the 30 injections are too tough on her because I do not have enough food as all my livestock have died because of drought.”
Next to Ajaba is Mohammed Hassan from Badana Raro village which is 37 kilometres away. He has brought two children suffering from the disease too.
“My two children got Ka-alazar last month and it became tough for me. I have to bring them here every day for the injections. They are on their seventh injections and I pray the 30 injections dose ends soon. Here we have lost most of our livestock which we depend on, we have nothing left but to hold on hope, that one day things will be better.” Hassan narrates.
The parents walk in one by one to a room next to them, the room is full of syringes and a clinical officer who looks overwhelmed is administering the injections.
“There is Ka-alazar outbreak in this region, so many children are suffering from this disease and I have no choice but to treat them despite the nurses’ strike. Nurses are the ones who give these injections.” Dr. Peter Marete, a clinical officer at Merti Health Centre confirms.
Marete who is now the saviour for hundreds of children suffering from Ka-alazar in Merti is worried about reinfections. “This disease is transmitted by a sand-fly and therefore these children need to be protected from this fly. It is also a drought season and most children are brought here in bad state.”
Marete calls on both counties of Isiolo and national government to look into ways of controlling the vector which he terms as life threatening to the children.
People here are pastoralists and live in temporary structures which are prone to insects like sand flies getting in.
“We have many cases of malnutrition and when coupled with the disease it becomes dangerous to the child’s health, we have Malaria cases too but they are not many.”
Some of the clinical symptoms of Ka-alazar are; enlarged spleen, weight loss, diarrhea and general symptoms which are similar to Malaria disease.
Marete believes there are any children dying in these villages due to the disease because of the distance coverage. “Many villages are far away and now that there is the nurses’ strike most patients will not be able to access our facility for treatment, it will be costly for them to travel yet they have no means.”
Merti is one of Kenya’s regions which has been neglected since independence, the district does not have a working ambulance to rescue patients in need of emergency care. This makes it very difficult for many patients to access such services.
In Kenya the disease is commonly found in semi-Arid regions like Baringo, Eastern Kenya and northern Kenya.
Studies indicate over 95 percent of Ka-alazar infections occur in countries like Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The disease affects largely the socially marginalized and poorest communities.