News blackout for Kisumu cholera epidemic

A cholera outbreak in Kisumu is being hushed by Kenyan media, afraid of getting in the wrong books of the country’s political leaders.

There is scant news in Kenya’s electronic and print media over the health crisis that has seen increased congestion in local public hospitals. However, with Kisumu’s leaders eager to attract investment for reconstruction, going public over the cholera outbreak will be another blow for the local economy.

Shahnaaz Sharif, an official in Kenya’s health ministry, said a total of 134 cases have been reported at the Kisumu District Hospital since the outbreak began on 6th June, reports the Kenya Environmental & Political News Weblog.

“At least 13 out of 38 cases sampled for cholera have tested positive,” said Sharrif, adding that 34 people had been admitted to the Kisumu district hospital. So far, he said, no deaths had been registered.

The Kenya Red Cross cites the areas affected within Kisumu Municipality as Kajulu, Obunga, Bandani, Manyata and Nyalenda informal settlement. Other cases have been reported in Migori and Rachuonyo. In the neighbouring Western Province, cholera cases have been witnessed in Samia and Busia Districts.

Inspite of this alarming situation, there is little reportage of the outbreak. Only the K24 television station dared send a team to Kisumu that brought video footage of the crisis.

Kisumu is hometown to Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The last cholera outbreak in Kisumu was well covered in April this year but attracted the wrath of area leaders, mostly from Raila’s ODM party. The politicians accused the media of running a campaign to tarnish the image of Kisumu, and Nyanza Province at large.

Kisumu’s leaders are anxious to attract investment and tourism to the lakeside city following massive looting early this year. Violence was sparked by disputed elections pitting Prime Minister Raila Odinga against President Mwai Kibaki. Kisumu is a hotbed of support for Raila and the town’s inhabitants accused President Kibaki of rigging the elections.

Large numbers of immigrant communities which contributed to commerce in Kisumu fled after they were attacked. A police crackdown to quell violence resulted in the deaths of at least 70 protesters in the town.

Kisumu’s economy suffered greatly, and news of a cholera outbreak is the last thing the town needs at this time. Ironically, extensive media coverage can help bring much needed emergency relief assistance to the town’s residents.

A continued media blackout would suggest that this cholera crisis, that has persisted for months, can only get worse.

According to the Kenya Red Cross website, cholera is an acute diarrhoea disease characterized by a sudden onset of profuse watery diarrhoea and vomiting. If not treated immediately, it may lead to severe loss of water in the body, rapid dehydration and eventually death. The disease is transmitted through eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with faeces containing cholera germs (bacteria).

Contamination may occur due to indiscriminate disposal of faeces and poor personal hygiene practices.

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