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Lurking danger in the exhilarating mountain trip

Outdoor events are a great adventure that can  turn fatal if proper  precautions are not taken. This was the case for Warren Asiyo who lost is life in 2015

You know that feeling when the mountains are calling and you must go? It is exciting! In fact, it is impossible to be in the woods and have a bad mood at the same time. Well, that was the case with a group of teenagers when they went for a hike in Mount Kenya as part of a church organised rites of passage programme in December 2015.

Trouble is, the organisers may not have been prepared enough for the outdoors. Poor planning, lack of safety, emergency equipment and inexperienced mountain guides led to the unfortunate demise of one 14-year-old, Warren Asiyo.

The boy succumbed to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (Hape) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (Hace), which are both advanced forms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) that occurs due to poor acclimatisation in high altitude areas.

Dr Hellen Nkatha Muthomi, a certified wilderness first aider and emergency care specialist, said altitude sickness has three forms. Mild altitude sickness is called acute mountain sickness (AMS) and is quite similar to a hangover – it causes headache, nausea, and fatigue.

Some people are only slightly affected, others feel awful. Hellen advises that if you have AMS, you should take this as a warning sign that you are at risk of the serious forms of altitude sickness. Both Hape and Hace can be fatal within hours.

The late Warren Asiyo suffered from Hape, a dangerous build-up of fluid in the lungs that prevents the air spaces from opening up and filling with fresh air with each breath. Hace on the other hand is fluid in the brain. It causes confusion, clumsiness, and stumbling.

The first signs may be uncharacteristic behaviour such as laziness, excessive emotion or violence. Drowsiness and loss of consciousness occur shortly before death. Warren suffered a combination of these two altitude sicknesses.

The death of Warren left a gap in the hearts of his family and friends, who then took it upon themselves to start The Warren Foundation (TWF) with an aim of transforming the casual way outdoor activities are carried out in Kenya.

The Warren Foundation was officially launched last month as an outdoor safety initiative set to sensitise the public on safety when undertaking outdoor activities.The Warren Foundation aims at creating awareness on the hidden safety challenges and dangers of outdoor activities. They plan to do this through providing and promoting training and certification of guides.

It is also keen on improving emergency preparedness at the mountain; ensuring there is constant communication and proper evacuation measures. The foundation’s Chairman Richard Kiplagat believes that had the mountain guides been better equipped with basic knowledge of AMS, they would have recognised the symptoms related to the onset of Hape and Hace.

The lack of awareness limited Warren’s chances of survival. So far, the foundation has tabled a bill in Parliament under the parliamentary environment committee that will uphold safety standards in the outdoors.

The foundation has also rolled out several school engagements and pushed for the installation of GSM antenna at the foot of Mt Kenya, which has enhanced communication on the mountain and facilitated easy reach in case of an emergency.

As a result, there has been a reduction in the number of accidents and incidents in Mt Kenya with no deaths having been reported since mid-2016. As a safety measure, the foundation is setting up a centre for outdoor activity excellence in Naromoro town that will be used for training and certifying of mountain guides and team-building activities.

Alnavaz Amlani, an outdoor expert and instructor, says the most important time is an hour from the time of an outdoor accident. The foundation is keen on forming partnerships with key industry stakeholders, including Kenya Wildlife Service, Safaricom, Communications Authority of Kenya, Parliament, Insurance providers, all hospitals, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, expedition companies, schools and churches.

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