The fish you consume at restaurants in urban areas is disguised as local catch amid rising consumer concerns over imports from China and helplessness by the standards agency to enforce safety.
At the Gikomba market in Nairobi, Chinese fish is sold openly after being repackaged by traders in baskets. This involves removing the frozen pieces from the packed boxes, which come with a two-year expiry date, repacking and sending them to various locations by handcarts. Should anyone ask the source the instructions are firm: from Lake Victoria.
Laboratory tests commissioned by the Nation two weeks ago revealed that fish imported from China had traces of mercury, lead, arsenic and copper exposing millions to health risks.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), however, denies the fish poses any danger to human health.
In a response to queries by the Nation over the health concerns raised by the laboratory results, Kebs said that tests on fish samples from various sources at its accredited laboratories had not found any lead, copper and mercury.
“All imports to Kenya are required to be tested at the country of origin and, if they meet the specifications in the standards, they are issued with a certificate of conformity. Upon arrival in Kenya, the imports are subjected to destination inspection,” the agency said.
Fish imports are not subjected to further laboratory tests once they land in the country. Kenya has therefore left consumers at the fate of Chinese approved agents.
The Chinese fish is preferred by traders for its affordability with a box containing almost 60 pieces going for Sh2,700 in wholesale rates. This compares to Sh450 apiece for fish from Lake Victoria.
The commodity has become more popular in restaurants, open markets, kiosks, roadside eateries and the famous Gikomba market in Nairobi because of its affordable costs even as the locally farmed product struggles to meet the growing demand.
Despite being within the permissible limits according to the United Nations standards, the presence of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, copper and arsenic in the human body poses serious health risks after long-term exposure, raising concerns on the increasing rate of consumption of the contaminated fish.
The Nation took samples of fish imported from China and purchased from vendors at Gikomba to the University of Nairobi’s Public Health, Pharmacology and Toxicology laboratory and found traces of lead, copper, mercury and arsenic.
The results confirmed residues of 0.04 ppm of lead, 0.005 ppm of mercury, > 0.001 ppm of arsenic and 1.2 ppm of copper, indicating possible contamination of the water ponds used to farm fish that is later imported into the region.
“The results shows that these fish have permissible standards limits, but it is still worrying that their presence can still be detected in them. Long-term exposure to these metals through frequent consumption can have a disastrous effect to the human body and poses serious health risks,” Professor James Mbaria, head of UoN’s public health department, said of the results.
The presence of the heavy metals in the imported fish means that these farmed products are exposed to either use of petrol powered water pump or pesticide application apparatus leading to contamination of their ponds and exposure to lead and copper.
For consumers, this will be of definite concerns given that the possibility of harmful effects cannot be ruled out after a long period of consumption of these fish.
“Heavy metals can cause serious health hazards and any potential dietary exposure to lead or mercury possess possible risk to human health,” Professor Mbaria said.
The Nation undertook the study following health fears over the Chinese export after several countries, including the United States, called for stricter enforcement of safety and health checks by Chinese authorities on the food commodity.
The laboratory tests were intended to determine the level of drug residues including streptomycin, sulfadimidine, oxytetracycline, and penicillin, as well as pesticide residues.
The heavy metals tested included lead, copper, mercury, arsenic and copper. The test results did not detect any drug or pesticide residue in the samples.
Kenya has recently turned to China to meet its fish consumption demand, which has seen its fish imports from the Asian nation double over the last two years to hit highs of $20.1 million in 2017 from $10.2 million the previous year, adding impetus to concerns that the Asian nation is flooding the market to the detriment of local fishermen.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), Kenya spent $22.17 million on fish imports in the first 11 months of 2017, reflecting the strong hold China has over the local fish market, as it accounted for more than 90 per cent of these imports.
The Chinese imports, which stood at $6.24 million in 2015, comes at a time when local production was falling amid dwindling stocks in the lakes.
Frozen fish that included tilapia and mackerel was the most imported fish stock from China, with more than 19,000 tonnes worth more than $18 million. This category included mostly frozen and chilled tilapia.
The presence of toxic metals is not just limited to the imported fish. Several recent studies of Kenyan farmed fish also revealed that there exist potential hazardous chemicals in the products exposing consumers.
Two years ago, a study by the University of Nairobi led by Dr Isaac Omwenga tested 213 fish samples from 60 ponds in Kiambu and Machakos and found them to be contaminated with banned agricultural chemicals, with some having the potential to cause cancer.
Human poisoning from aldrin and dieldrin is characterised by major body convulsions. Heptachlor is highly toxic to humans and can be absorbed through the skin, lungs and the food tract.
These chemicals are banned in most countries and in Kenya by the Pest Control Products Board. The study showed lindane and DDT as the most prevalent in all the samples analysed.
“While the contamination did not breach international health safety standards, it is an extremely worrying trend,” Dr Laetitia W. Kanja of the University of Nairobi and one of the study authors said.
The UoN’s public health department had in June 2013 tested for lead and copper in fish and soil sediments in farmed fish within Kirinyaga and found high levels of lead, which they said could have been as a result of the agricultural methods of fish farming practised in the area.
“Heavy metals that may be found in fish include mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, thallium, and lead which have a tendency to bio accumulate in the food chain and can be highly toxic to human even at low concentrations.”
“These toxic elements are transferred to human through consumption of contaminated fish resulting to a negative effect on human health.”
“On absorption, pollutants are transported in the blood stream to either the bone or liver for transformation and storage,” the researchers said in their report published in the Journal of Applied Science and Environmental Sanitation.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.