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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Kenya hit by malaria epidemic
Kenyan rural dwellers
Highland malaria epidemics kill hundreds in East Africa
Hospitals in Kenya's Rift Valley and Nyanza provinces are on emergency alert as the death toll from a malaria epidemic tops 200.

The outbreak of highland malaria has affected thousands of people in western areas of the country, according to the acting provincial medical health officer, John Kibusio, speaking in Nakuru on Monday.

The government has responded by announcing that treatment for the disease will be given free at state-run hospitals.

Highland malaria is defined by scientists as malaria that occurs at the high altitude limit for the disease.

Outbreaks of the disease show a fluctuating pattern, Dr Jon Cox of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told BBC News Online.

During the last five years there have been a number of outbreaks of malaria in highland areas of Kenya, Burundi and Uganda.

Quacks

Most of the deaths have occurred in Rift Valley and Nyanza provinces. Worst affected have been the districts of Kericho, Londiani, Nandi and Kapsabet.

Over 5,000 people have been treated in hospital in the two provinces after being infected with the disease.

Kenya's director of medical services, Dr Richard Muga, has toured Kericho's worst affected areas and promised free treatment and free laboratory tests to determine who is suffering from malaria.

He also said that action should be taken to crack down on "illegal clinics" and "quacks" who were not following health ministry guidelines, according to the Daily Nation on Monday.

Scientific debate

Outbreaks of highland malaria in Africa occur mainly in East Africa and while having no clear pattern tend to occur every four to seven years.

There is considerable debate over the causes of the epidemics.

Malarial mosquito
Temperature could affect malaria epidemics
The incidence of the disease at higher altitudes is determined generally by temperature.

Dr Jon Cox says "the jury is still out" on whether climate change is a factor in epidemics.

He says other possible factors are deforestation, changes in land and water use.

The reason, he says, that high numbers of deaths result from outbreaks is that malaria is not present permanently in highland regions and so people build up little resistance.

It is also thought that high death rates can be caused by growing resistance of the disease to commonly-used drugs.

See also:

17 Jun 02 | Africa
15 Feb 02 | Health
30 Apr 02 | Health
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
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