Kenya: Lack of drugs hampering fight against malaria

NAIROBI, 20 July (IRIN) - A malaria epidemic in Kenya, which has claimed over 1,000 lives, has been further complicated by a short supply of quinine, an essential drug in combating the disease.
According to the 'EastAfrican' weekly, Kenya's health ministry announced that the Central Supplies Unit in Nairobi had exhausted all its quinine stocks, and other anti-malaria drugs were fast running out.

The newspaper said the health ministry had issued large stocks of the drugs to 15 epidemic-prone districts by the end of April, but these had now been used up due to the "unusually severe outbreak this year". Despite the efforts, the National Malaria Control Programme stressed that "patients seeking care far exceed available physical facilities and staffing capacity, and drugs and non-pharmaceutical supplies are running short". One of the worst-affected areas is the western Kisii district, where at least 700 people are reported to have died.

"Ministry officials are making efforts to procure new supplies to combat the epidemic, which has reportedly affected close to 200,000 people," the paper said.

Another drawback is the resistance of the malaria parasite to the widely-used chloroquine drug. An official from the Kenyan health ministry told IRIN chloroquine has proved "ineffective" in the treatment of malaria. However, he denied press claims that the ministry had "banned" the use of chloroquine, saying there had been "no ministerial statement on this" and the "drugs are still being sold".

The official added that in some highland areas, which until now have been less prone to malaria, chloroquine "can be effective". Last month, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies released a report which said malaria was now affecting areas at higher altitudes. "African highland cities such as Nairobi and Harare, which are at present largely malaria-free, are especially vulnerable," the report warned.


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