Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why viral diseases remain a big threat


Aug 16th 2012

By Chris Mahandara.

Zoonotic illnesses, also known as zoonoses, are sicknesses caused by
germs, that are passed between or shared by animals and humans.

Some examples of these diseases are avian influenza, West Nile virus,
Lyme disease, rabies, cryptosporidiosis, plague and Rocky Mountain
spotted fever.

Caused by bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, worms, or insects, most
of these diseases are very common and some are a serious problem all
over the world.

Overpopulation, moving from place to place, people traveling around
the world, continued expansion of people into places where nobody
lives, natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and other
factors all play a role in how different zoonotic diseases affect
human beings, animals and the ecosystem.

Apart from killing human beings, these diseases are now a threat to
the multibillion livestock industry.

In Kenya for example, the poultry industry was dealt a major blow
following a fear of the outbreak of avian influenza which was reported
in Juba, South Sudan.

Even though no case was reported in the country, the reality that
Avian Flu had reached Africa and a neighbouring country so many
Kenyans stopped eating chicken. As a result, the industry lost in
excess of Sh. 3 billion between 2005 and 2006.
Since then no bird flu has been detected in wild birds or domestic
poultry in Kenya but according to experts the country is still at
Avian influenza is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu)
A viruses. These influenza A viruses occur naturally among birds.
However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and some of
these viruses can make certain domesticated bird species, including
chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.
Infected birds can shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal
secretions and feaces. Susceptible birds become infected when they
have contact with contaminated secretions or excretions or with
surfaces that are contaminated with secretions or excretions from
infected birds.
Domesticated birds may become infected with avian influenza virus
through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected
poultry, or through contact with surfaces (such as dirt or cages) or
materials (such as water or feed) that have been contaminated with the
Infection with avian influenza viruses in domestic poultry causes two
main forms of disease that are distinguished by low and high extremes
of virulence.
The “low pathogenic” form may go undetected and usually causes only
mild symptoms (such as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production).
However, the highly pathogenic form spreads more rapidly through
flocks of poultry. This form may cause disease that affects multiple
internal organs and has a mortality rate that can reach 90-100% often
within 48 hours.
Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from
contact with infected poultry (e.g., domesticated chicken, ducks, and
turkeys) or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from
infected birds.
During an outbreak of avian influenza among poultry, there is a
possible risk of infection for people who have contact with infected
birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with secretions or
excretions from infected birds.
Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human
influenza-like symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches
to eye infections to pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases such as
acute respiratory distress and other severe and life-threatening
complications. The symptoms may depend on which virus caused the
Highly pathogenic Influenza A (H5N1) virus is an influenza A virus
that occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious among birds, and can
be deadly to them, especially domestic poultry.
H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, but infections with these
viruses have occurred in humans. Most of these cases have resulted
from people having direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry
or H5N1-contaminated surfaces.
Of the few avian influenza viruses that have crossed the species
barrier to infect humans, H5N1 has caused the largest number of
detected cases of severe disease and death in humans.
However, it is possible that those cases in the most severely ill
people are more likely to be diagnosed and reported, while milder
cases are less likely to be detected and reported.
Of the human cases associated with the ongoing H5N1 outbreaks in
poultry and wild birds in Asia and parts of Europe, the Near East and
Africa, about 60% of those people reported infected with the virus
have died.
Most cases have occurred in previously healthy children and young
adults and have resulted from direct or close contact with
H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces.

In general, H5N1 virus does not infect humans easily, and if a person
is infected, it is very difficult for the virus to spread to another

So far in Africa the avian flu has been reported in 12 countries among
them Egypt, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and South Sudan.

The most recent case in Africa was in Egypt where one person died on
June 22, 2011. Of the 150 cases confirmed to date in Egypt, 52 have
been fatal.

Attention to Kenya has therefore come because of its position on major
migratory paths. Migratory birds fly from Europe through Kenya to
South Africa meaning the disease might be introduced by the birds
coming from areas where bird flu outbreaks have been confirmed.

Senior Assistant Director of Veterinary Services in the Ministry of
Livestock Dr. Michael Cheruyiot says avian flu is transmitted mainly
by water birds and since Kenya is endowed with water bodies and river
Nile which flows from Lake Victoria to Egypt where the disease is
endemic, the country is at risk.

Dr. Michael Cheruyiot, who is the National Avian Influenza coordinator
adds that the fact that Kenya is a business hub for East and Central
Africa, a lot of people and poultry products are likely to come in and
out exposing the country to risk.

Another risk factor according to Dr. Cheruyiot is our poultry
production system. Out of the 31.5 million poultry in the country, 70%
of them are indigenous. These birds are left to scavenge for food and
sleep in the same houses with human beings or houses that are not
hygienic thus predisposing them to the flu.

“Our cultural practices where chicken is a delicacy, we give it out as
a gifts, use it to perform rites and also travel with the birds in our
vehicles is also a predisposing factor,” says Dr. Cheruyiot.

As a result, he says the government has set up an extensive disease
surveillance system to detect any disease outbreak early if it is
introduced and has measures in place to contain the disease if it
comes in.

The government has established a national multi-sectoral task force on
avian influenza co-chaired by three directors, the Director of Public
health and Sanitation, the Director of Veterinary Services and the
Director of the National Disaster Operations Center.

It comprises of members from across the board among them research
institutions, universities, Non Governmental Organizations, religious
organizations, the disciplined forces and other stakeholders.

The task force has six sub committees, coordination and resource
mobilization, laboratory and disease diagnosis, information and
education, disease control, surveillance and case management each
given key responsibilities in prevention and the fight against the

Since the establishment of the task force, the government has banned
the importation of poultry and poultry products at the same time
increased surveillance of both domestic and wild birds so that any
diseased birds can be tested.

In addition, farmers have been educated on safe ways of transporting
poultry, maintaining high standards of hygiene and cooking well
inspected poultry meat.

Dr. Cheruyiot adds that Poultry slaughter houses have been constructed
across the country, where veterinary officers inspect the meat before
it is sold to the public.

Surveillance at border entry points of Moyale, Busia, Malaba, Namanga,
Lunga Lunga and Lokichogio and also all international airports and the
port of Mombasa has been enhance to enforce the ban on importation of
poultry products in the country.

In an exclusive interview with Kakamegatimes, Dr. Cheruyiot said such meetings were necessary to enhance
the capacity of stakeholders to handle the pandemic whenever it

The government, he said has strengthened the laboratory diagnostic
capacity at Kabete and the Kenya Medical Research Institute for quick

Furthermore, medicine has been procured and medical personnel have
been trained to prepare them to detect, contain and manage an outbreak
of the disease.

Dr. Cheruyiot confirmed that influenza surveillance in humans is
ongoing and that plans for isolation of patients, treatment and
referral guidelines have been finalized.

He says that the government has made the disease notifiable, adding
that the media has also been trained to report objectively on the

Dr. Cheruyiot asked Kenyans not to panic. He assured the public that
the disease has not been reported in the country adding that stringent
measures have been put in place to deal with the disease if it occurs.


Water hawking decried

AUG 16, 2012
By Kakamegatimes reporter
Residents of Kakamega municipality have been urged to chlorinate water drawn from boreholes in an effort to protect them from contracting water borne diseases, which have led to loss of lives.
 Addressing the stakeholders during a three day sensitization workshop held at the Busia Agricultural Training Centre [ATC] yesterday, a senior public health officer from Kakamega Municipal Council, Arthur Muganda expressed concern saying scores of water traders operating within the municipality draw water from boreholes which they package in plastic containers before selling the same to unsuspecting consumers.
“Majority of water vendors within the municipality draw untreated water from rivers and boreholes which they pack in plastic containers and sell the same to unsuspecting consumers oblivious of the danger posed,” said the public health officer, adding that scores of people have ended up contracting typhoid and other waterborne diseases.
He urged the farmers to treat their sewerage before releasing the waste products to their farms saying that waste products if released directly to the crops are harmful to their health.
The public health officer at the same time urged the participants to discourage traders in their respective areas against spreading their goods on the ground where are likely to be contaminated, adding that they should instead sell the same on raised stalls in accordance with the municipal health by-laws.
“All traders especially those selling vegetables should use raised stalls instead of spreading their goods on the ground,” said Muganda
The residents were also advised to ensure they constructed pit latrines within their homesteads rather than relieving themselves in the bush, a situation he noted was a big health risk.

Group to plant 100 million trees in Kakamega forest

Group to plant 100 million trees in Kakamega forest

By Chris Mahandara/ Henry Magaga

A youth group has agreed to plant 100 million trees in Kakamega forest and nearby homes to save the forest from extinction due to human activities that have taken off a large portion of Kenya’s remaining tropical forest.

The move by the group is the first ever to be undertaken by the youth in the area on a scale of this magnitude.

Following the interest expressed by Kenya Young Greens (KYG), the Kenya Forest Service has allocated the group 700 hectares of forest land to undertake the ambitious exercise in three years.

The chairperson of the group Ms. Anne Bulimu said this year alone, KYG with other groups interested in conservation of the environment will plant one million tree seedlings.

This, she said will be followed by planting of more trees in the forest and neighbouring homes until the 100 million target is reached.

Under the programme christened Amani na Mazingira, she said KYG shall spearhead conservation efforts to mitigate against adverse effects of climate change at the same time crusade for peace among Kenyan communities ahead of the forth coming general elections.

The group visited the forest and found loggers have cut down indigenous trees that formed the famous forest that used to stretch from West Africa to East Africa.

“This is what prompted KYG to think of saving the forest by planting more trees to replace tjose cut down,” she said.

She said the locals will be sensitized on the need to plant more trees to benefit from carbon trade.

Meanwhile the Kenya Forest Service intends to harvest 100 hectares of mature cypress trees from the forest to pave way for planting new trees.

KFS Kakamega Zonal Manager Mr. Mwai Muraguri said the trees worth Sh. 200 million shall be harvested soon to prevent damage through natural attrition and invasion by insects .


`Wonder root’ set to turn around county’s economy


AUGUST  7nth, 2012

By Chris Mahandara.

MondiaWhytei, also known as Mkombela in Luhya language is an indigenous vine that grows wild in tropical forests of Western, Central and Eastern African countries.

For many years in Kenya, communities living adjacent to Kakamega tropical rain forest have chewed the raw root back of MondiaWhytei with some believing it is an aphrodisiac.

Others have been drying and grinding the roots into powder which they mix in porridge to induce appetite.

To add value to this indigenous knowledge, intense research by Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and other partners has produced a new product from MondiaWhytei (Mkombela) that has rich nutritional and pharmacological value.

Mondia tonic which has been approved by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) will be sold in supermarkets and other commercial outlets in the country and abroad at Ksh.50 for the 12g and Ksh.300 for the 50g tin.

ICIPE Senior Research Assistant Mr. Lambert Moreka, said research has confirmed that Mkombela increases appetite, reduces stress, clears hangovers, soothes the mind and also increases milk production for lactating mothers.

The plant contains vitamins A, D, K and E, and the minerals, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium and protein.

However, the aphrodisiac effect which has been widely associated with the crop was not found, according to the ICIPE research.

Mr. Moreka said the green leaf of the crop can be used to feed livestock and has been proved to increase milk production.

In the year 2000, ICIPE mobilized local communities in Kakamega and trained them on domestication and commercial cultivation of the traditional medicinal plant.

Mr. Moreka said since the inception of the programme, 60,000 MondiaWhyteitrees have been planted on individual homes in Kakamega County.

This is the first time in the history of MondiaWhyteito be domesticated in the world as a commercial high value crop.

A small factory has been established in Kakamega town to manufacture Mondia tonic and other products.

The root bark of the plant is being processed by Kakamega Environment Education Programme (KEEP) at their factory located at Kakamega Industrial Estates (KIE).

Mr. Moreka said considering the local consumer’s untapped market, ICIPE decided to launch the Mondia tonic 12Kg pack that is affordable while maintaining high quality health for all to use.

The products, he said are on sale in supermarkets across Kenya including Kakamega.

The plant is unique since it is the first eco-friendly industry that involves indigenous medicinal plant that is processed into the medicinal products.

The Mkombela factory is the first small scale industry in Kakamega town that has only a bakery for making bread.

After testing the new product and news that the Kakamega plant will require large quantities of Mkombela to process, many people have bought seedlings of the plant to grow in their homes.

Mr. Moreka said the commercialization of the plant to produce Mondia tonic will generate income for the local people.

He said for every kilogram of raw Mkombela that will be delivered, KEEP will pay the farmer Ksh.210.

He said ICIPE decided to domesticate the crop and work with communities in the area to reduce pressure on Kakamega forest.

“We realized that the plant was almost depleted following years of excessive harvest,” he said.

Area residents, he said were not aware that the plant had seeds which are dispersed by wind.

As a result, ICIPE introduced the seeds and trained farmers on how to propagate them at home to help conserve Kakamega forest which is the only remaining tropical rain forest in Kenya.

The plant, he said takes two and a half to three years to mature after which farmers can harvest for up to 15 years.

With the increased demand for Mondia tonic, the acreage under the crop in the area is bound to increase to ensure steady supply of the roots to the factory for processing.

KEEP has been mandated with the task of expanding the growth of the crop which is fast replacing other cash crops in the area.

KEEP Chairman Mr. Benjamin Okalo said MondiaWhytei is going to help increase forest cover in the area at the same time improve the natural biodiversity, scenery and ecosystem.

KEEP, he said has a total of 15, 000 farmers with at least 30 stems each adding that once the capacity of the factory is enhanced more farmers shall be brought on board to meet the demand.

The project, he said was the only one of its kind since it has managed to remove MondiaWhytei sellers from Kakamega forest at the same time encouraged reforestation.

“All farmers under our organization have planted MondiaWhytei alongside support trees hence boosting the region’s forest cover,” he said.

Apart from selling the roots, the farmers he said will make a lot of money from selling seeds and in future the viper as a herbal toothbrush.

A spoon of MondiaWhytei seeds which weighs less that 7g for example goes at Sh. 100 making it the most profitable crop in the region.

ACT Kenya, which is the sponsor of the project, has a commitment with the group until 2017.

ACT Kenya Programme Manager Mrs. Elizabeth Matioli said the organization decided to fund KEEP as part of their aim of assisting communities meet their needs and generate income through conserving the environment.

ACT Kenya provided the seed fund which was used to commercialize domestic farming of MondiaWhytei.

She added that the organization which has Sh. 1.5 billion to be spread to other environmental conservation projects across Kenya for the next five years will continue working with KEEP until a vibrant industry that can sustain itself is in place.

Mrs. Matioli added that more funds shall be availed to enable ICIPE develop other products from MondiaWhytei among them tablets.

“Our goal is to take this MondiaWhytei far by coming up with new products at the same time popularize it as a beverage,” she said.

Mr. Mokera disclosed that plans were underway to launch Mondia tablets. This, however he said was being hampered by the high cost of equipment required.

Lab equipment cost over $ 1 million while a grinder costs Sh. 2 million shillings making it difficult to embark on immediate mass production of the product.

The locals appealed to the government to help KEEP patent the product which is the first of its kind in the world to prevent other multilateral companies from hijacking it. Already a Chinese Company has shown interest in the product.

“We should not lose this one the way we lost Kiondo,” said Hannah Lugonzo, a MondiaWhytei farmer.

Mr. Mokera said the process of having the product patented was on course but due to the procedures involved it was likely to take time.

Whereas it is possible to produce synthetic Mondia Tonic, Mr. Mokera said it was not possible for any company in the world to produce a product with the same taste as the Kakamega one.

“The Mondia Tonic from Kakamega has a unique taste due to the high rains and the tropical rain forest which highly favour the crop,” he said.

In Africa MondiaWhytei is also found in West Africa and South Africa where it grows wild in tropical forests. But Kenya’s Mondia is considered the best in the world.



Conservation group eyes snake venom for export


Tuesday,August 7th, 2012      By Chris Mahandara.

An environmental conservation group that keeps some of the world’s
most poisonous snakes is eyeing extraction of venom from the deadly
reptiles for export.
Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP) Chairman Mr.
Benjamin Okalo said the move by the organization which runs a snake park in
kakamega forest is occasioned by the huge demand for
venom on the international market to manufacture medicine for snake
“We are aware that a gramme of venom is more valuable than a gramme of
gold and this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss,” he said.
KEEP, which has embarked on breeding of snakes to boost their stock,
he said, will team up with international snake handlers to extract
venom from the snakes for export.
He said, the group has stocked the two year old park with six
different snake species adding that plans were underway to stock an
additional 14 species.
Among the world’s most poisonous snakes at the park include Black
mamba, Gabon Viper and Puff Adder.
Gabon Viper is said to have migrated to kakamega forest from Gabon
when the tropical rain forest which used to stretch from West to East
Africa was still intact.
He said although snakes bite people, they are friendly and only do so
in self defense when provoked or feel they are in danger.
He disclosed that snakes play a big role in reducing rodents that eat
grains in the farm and granaries adding that they should not be
“We are going to keep some harmless snakes such as Sand bow for people
to touch while learning about snakes when they visit our park,” he
Apart from snakes, the park has crocodiles, tortoise, chameleon and
ostrich birds to increase its animal biodiversity.
“I sometimes wonder why people pick sticks and kill harmless creatures
like chameleons,” he said while holding a chameleon in his hands to
show that it is harmless.
KEEP is also involved in raising indigenous tree seedlings and making
special charcoal from dry leaves and waste papers to reduce dependence
on wood fuel so as to conserve kakamega forest.
The group started the park at the forest two years ago to enable
visitors see the snakes easily as most of them were evasive and hide
when they hear strange movement and sound in the forest.
Mr. Okalo said apart from promoting tourism in the western circuit,
they were also providing researchers and schools with a centre to
learn about snakes.
Communities living around the forest have responded well to the
initiative and supply frogs, rats and chicks to feed the snakes at a
fee. KEEP pays Sh. 100 for every mature frog delivered. The business
is booming and has provided employment to hundreds of youth in the
“As we increase the snakes the demand will triple and no doubt more
and more people from this area will put food on their table by
supplying snake food,” he said.