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From Deutsche Presse Agentur


Kenya's Kisii Highlands Struck by Deadly Form of Malaria

DATELINE: 11 August 1999 (Wednesday) - Kisil, Western Kenya

SECTION: International News

LENGTH: 553 words

BYLINE: By Thomas Burmeister, dpa

DATELINE: Kisii, Western Kenya

Nobody dies alone on Ward 5 in Kisii Provincial Hospital in the West of Kenya. Nevertheless the death of a patient often goes unnoticed for hours, despite the fact that the patients are crammed in - two, or even three, to a bed.

Many are so apathetic that they are not aware that someone has succumbed right next to them.

While AIDS may have become the most devastating killer across much of Africa in recent years, here in the Kisii Highlands a mysterious malaria epidemic has for weeks been carrying off more people than any other disease, although the region, lying 1,800 metres above sea level, was previously regarded as largely malaria-safe as a result of its altitude.

The mosquitoes bearing the malaria parasite should die quickly in the cool nights of the highland plateau, but they have migrated from the considerably warmer shores of Lake Victoria into the mountains and are surviving.

The outbreak has also caused alarm in Nairobi, which lies at the same altitude and has thus far been free of the marial mosquito. When the first deaths occurred in Kisii in May, Dr Wycliffe Mogoa did not believe he was faced with an epidemic, but since then the director of the completely overstretched Kisii Provincial Hospital has seen more people die than in the rest of his previous career.

The Kisii region has registered more than 700 deaths from malaria and around 20,000 people are ill with the disease, although the real numbers are probably considerably higher.

"When the people in the villages feel headaches and fever coming on they think they have a cold and simply take a cheap painkiller," Mogoa says.

Plasmodium falciparum is responsible in 99 per cent of all cases, a parasite that causes the most dangerous form of the disease, malaria tropicana, which can cause death within 12 hours if not treated.

"In addition, the falciparum parasite is now all but completely resistant to the usual medication," according to Bart de Porter of Medicins sans Frontiers. "Chloroquine simply doesn't help."

Colonel Ronald Rosenberg, who is investigating the development of malaria in East Africa for the United States armed forces, believes climatic changes are primarily responsible. Under normal circumstances it ought to be extremely dry around Kisii, but El Nino has changed that. Even the plateau nights are now much warmer than before, and it has been pouring almost every day for weeks, although this is the dry season.

Pools of stagnant water are everywhere, providing ideal breeding conditions for the mosquitoes. Nevertheless, during the El Nino year of 1998 there was also more rain and more standing water, but considerably fewer malaria cases than this year.

Doctors in Kisii blame poverty for allowing the malarial plague to get out of control.

"Nobody here can afford to take malarial prophylaxis all the time," one says, and Kisii Hospital is also suffering the effects of a lack of funds, with medicine soon to become as scarce as the beds themselves.

"If the rains ease off, we will soon have the worst behind us," Mogoa says in hope, but looking up at the sky he can see more dark rainclouds approaching. dpa rm vc/kr

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