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When snakes strike, lives shatter

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By AFP
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On June 15, 2015, four-year-old Chepchirchir Kiplagat’s life changed forever. Bitten by a snake as she slept, she permanently lost the use of the left side of her body.

Sleeping beside her on a mattress on the floor of their modest, mud-walled home, Chepchirchir’s two-year-old sister Scholar was also bitten.

“It was hard to tell what had happened because the children were crying from the pain,” their father Jackson Chepkui, a 39-year-old livestock farmer, told AFP at home in the tiny village of Embosos in the remote Baringo County.

“We saw two blood spots on her (Chepchirchir’s) wrist, that’s how we were able to conclude that they were bitten by a snake.”

With tiny Scholar no longer breathing, Mr Chepkui scrambled to save his surviving daughter.

Embosos does not have its own clinic, and the frantic father struggled to find a motorcycle taxi to take his child to the nearest town: Marigat about 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) away.

They finally arrived at about 1am — some five hours after the child was bitten — only to find the clinic had no antivenom.

They set off again for the town of Kabarnet, another 40 km away, again to find no stocks of the lifesaving serum.

brown spitting cobra

A brown spitting cobra rears up using its menacing hood to adopt a defencive posture inside its enclosure on February 14, 2019 at the Bio-Ken Snake Farm in the Kenya’s coastal town of Watamu in Kilifi county. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP

Finally, Chepchirchir was brought to a hospital in the city of Eldoret, a further 90 km away, by 5am.

The little girl was in hospital for two months and suffered permanent damage. Of school age now, she requires a wheelchair her family cannot afford.

Every year, snakes bite about 5.4 million people worldwide, of whom up to 2.7 million experience “envenoming” — when the animal transfers its poison through its fangs.

This number is likely a vast underestimation, given underreporting and patchy recordkeeping, officials say.

An estimated 81,000-138,000 people die of snakebites annually, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), while about 400,000 survivors suffer permanent disabilities and other nasty aftereffects.

Snake venom can cause paralysis that stops breathing, bleeding disorders that can lead to fatal haemorrhage, irreversible kidney failure and tissue damage that can cause permanent disability and limb loss.

Most snakebite victims live in the world’s tropical and poorest regions, and children are worse affected due to their smaller body size.

The fate of victims like Chepchirchir and her little sister is avoidable, insisted Royjan Taylor, director of the Bio-Ken venomous snake centre in Watamu on the Kenyan coast.

Even simple barriers such as mosquito nets around beds can repel the slithering reptiles, while easy access to trained medical staff and species-specific antivenoms can save thousands of lives.

Figures on antivenom availability today are hard to come by, but a report by Nick Brown of the Global Snakebite Initiative a few years ago estimated it could be as low as 2.5 percent of what is needed, with the majority of African countries having no effective or affordable antivenom at all.

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And a recent study of more than 100 clinics in Kenya’s southern Kilifi county revealed that nearly 90 percent of staff had had no training in snakebite treatment.

“Because it (a snakebite) can’t be transmitted (like a disease), people tend not to look at it seriously. But we see so many snakebites, we see so much suffering because people lose limbs, they lose a leg” for something as random as “stepping on a snake,” said Taylor.

black spitting cobra

A black spitting cobra moves inside its enclosure on February 14, 2019 at the Bio-Ken Snake Farm in the Kenya’s coastal town of Watamu in Kilifi county. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP

During a visit by AFP, the Bio-Ken centre receives a call on a dedicated telephone line that immediately jolts the team into action: a snake has been spotted.

The call came from Emmanuel, 23, who waits for the team, machete in hand, at the spot where he last saw the reptile while locking his goat in its pen.

Moments later, Taylor and a colleague each grab an extremity of the snake using long pincers, and with a choreographed swoop, place it in a special box.

Today’s find: an African puff adder — the same type that bit Chepchirchir and Scholar.

“This one was well hidden” under piles of dead leaves, said Taylor. “At least this snake won’t bite anybody here.”

The captured snakes are released into national parks, far from populated villages and towns. The poison of some is extracted for use in antivenom production.

Kenya boasts some of the world’s deadliest snakes, key among them green and black mambas and spitting cobras.

And as in other poor, rural areas of Africa, Latin America and Asia, venomous snakes pose a public health risk that experts say has been neglected for far too long.

Carpet viper

A Carpet viper rests on the ground in the Kenyan Rift Valleys of the Baringo county, which bears one of the highest incidences of venomous snake attacks in Kenya, on February 22, 2019. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP

Things may finally be changing.

On February 21, a dedicated working group set up by the UN’s public health organ unveiled a strategy for halving snake bite deaths by 2030.

In its report, the group slams policymakers and drug developers for turning a blind eye to the issue.

“Like many diseases of poverty, snakebite envenoming has failed to attract requisite public health policy inclusion and investment…,” the authors state.

“This is largely due to the demographics of the affected populations and their lack of political voice.”

The working group’s plan envisions making 500,000 antivenom treatments available in sub-Saharan Africa every year by 2024, rising to three million per year globally by 2030.

WHO will work to boost production of the serum, improve regulatory control and reinvigorate the market by ensuring that safe and effective products are available, the report says.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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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.

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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.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
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.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
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.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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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.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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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.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

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.

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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.

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