BY KIPCHUMBA KEMEI
- In Loita area of Narok, schools have been deserted as most children have contracted Trachoma
- The World Health Organisation defines Trachoma as an infection of the eyes that may result in blindness after repeated re-infections and the world’s cause of preventable blindness occurring where people have limited access to water and health care.
- Families trek long distances in search of water which is strictly used for watering livestock and cooking and not a drop for bathing
- Residents say the government has neglected them as there no single health facility in Loita to treat the rising cases of Trachoma
In Loita area ofNarok South along the Kenya-Tanzania border, most classrooms are empty and the play grounds are unusually quiet with no single pupil in sight. Children who fill the schools on a normal day instead have stayed away at home, nursing a serious health problem – Trachoma.
Trachoma is a blinding disease that even the most of gifted learners willing to take note of what their teacher writes on the blackboard cannot claim to see.
As it has turned out, the condition is a double tragedy for the people of Loita as most children who have contracted the disease can neither go to school nor can they participate in any activity at home since they are sick.
The World Health Organisation defines Trachoma as an infection of the eyes that may result in blindness after repeated re-infections. It is the world’s cause of preventable blindness and occurs where people live in overcrowded conditions with limited access to water and health care.
Indeed, the disease in the area and other parts of the larger Narok is being exacerbated by lack of water for a good shower and the increase of flies because of lack of toilet facilities.
In John Taruru’s household at Naimene-Enkiyo village in Loita, his two wives and three of 11 children live with the disease which is at its active stage.
A survey shows that most children are unable to go to schoolas a result and in some primary schools the annual enrolment is dismal as the community grapples with the problem which the local health officials say is worrying.
Water being a major problem, Taruru says his wives and children are forced to walk long distances in search of the commodity which primarily they use for cooking and watering livestock, and not for maintaining cleanliness in the home.
“We have problems getting water especially during the dry spells and when it is available, it is strictly used to quench thirsts for the cows, goats and sheep and for cooking. We don’t waste it in bathing and washing clothes,” says Taruru whose homestead also lacks toilet facilities.
His family and the neighbours relieve themselves in the bushes. Besides, there are virtually no health facilities in the vast area to cater for rising cases of Trachoma.
Water is scarce and even if the community decides to drill boreholes it will be expensive and the water table is reportedly low, below 90 feet.
The only places where water and pit latrines can be found in the larger Loita plains are the trading centres near the Kenya-Tanzania border and at The LoitaIlkerin Integrated Community Project Centre.
Trachoma, which according WHO is the second cause of blindness in the world after cataract is, caused by a bacterium known as Chlamydia trachomatis which multiplies inside the epithelial cells of the conjunctiva – the membrane lining in the inner side of the eye lids.
The infection causes severe and intense inflammation that leads to scarring of conjunctiva and distortion of eye lids, forcing the eye lashes to rub on the eye, inflicting painful blinding injuries.
In the last national blindness survey in 1980, the disease was found to be common in children and in adults especially women.
It is a localised problem that is usually not evenly distributed and tends to cluster among poorest communities and households.The 1980 national surveyreported that the disease was the second cause of avoidable blindness, contributing to 19 per cent of blindness.
And in a world survey, out of 56 countries, Kenya is currently number 27 trachoma-endemic nation with Afghanistan leading the pack. About 11 million people are currently affected in the country.
According to a ministry of Health report, 80 per cent of children aged 10 in Meru had active trachoma, Maasai communities-50 per cent, Pokots in Baringo-25 per cent, Kikuyus in Nyeri, Tugen and Njemps-10 per cent.
The ancient disease is extinct in the developed world, but WHO says 84 million people have active trachoma – the infectious stage and about 7.6 million have trachomatoustrichiasis-the blinding stage.
In the larger Narok, out of eight divisions, only Olokurto is not trachoma-endemic. Olokurto, located in the Mau region has water and most households, according a ministry of Health survey have pit latrines. Parts of Narok town are not also endemic.
Teketi ole Lampaa of Mosiro, an area which is jigger-prone, says his children and some relatives are on the verge of becoming blind because of trachoma and asks the government to assist in drilling boreholes for people to be able to wash their faces to keep the disease at bay.
“We are told this disease thrives where there are flies because of poor sanitation. Even if we construct pit latrines and there is no water, it will not go away,” he says.
Apart from whipping political sympathy and support, he adds that politicians do not talk or comment about the problem and faults government earlier stated objective of availing water to all homesteads by the beginning of this century.
At Olkirieni, near Ewaso-Nyiro trading centre, the biggest cattle auction market in Narok, women and children bear the brunt of the disease because the little water available is normally reserved for cattle drinking and cooking and not the “luxury of bathing”.
“It is better for people to go blind and children to drop out of school than cattle, the source of our wealth to die,” said Peter Ololoigero, 56, a father of eight school-going children most whom have contracted the disease.
A stakeholders meeting that was held in Narok on blindness prevention, health care and development programmes whose objective was to share experiences and development of a five- year Trachoma programme heard that a visitor is greeted by hundreds of flies to any homestead, in the area. The area is the third most hit by Trachoma after Pokot and Samburu counties.
To end the problem, various international development organisations working towards the elimination of avoidable blindness, have embarked on sinking boreholes and pit latrines.
The NGOs in collaboration with the ministry of Health and the Water Resource Management Authority found out that despite making several trips to the sources, the community end up collecting too little water, not enough for drinking, cooking and bathing.
“Our survey showed that even the few latrines that were available before we embarked on the project were not regularly used. The animal dung, garbage disposal site and the latrines were too close to the houses, making cases of trachoma high,” said John Sironka, an Ophthalmology Officer at the local referral hospital.
He said in a clean environment where clean water is available and general cleanliness is observed the disease can be tamed and cases of avoidable blindness reduced.
Francis Kiio, the referral Medical Officer of Health said schools should be targeted in the programmes aimed at tackling the disease through teaching of personal hygiene.
“Trachoma is not found in all communities. It is a focal disease in which lifestyle and cultural practices are the contributing factors,” addedDrKiio, saying the more water is available, the better the situation will get.
In 2006, the Canadian-based Operation Eyesight Universal, funded the construction of an ultra- modern eye clinic and theatre at the hospital where rising cases of eye complications like trachoma and cataract are either operated on or treated.
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