Food hawking goes on as usual despite disease threat

Njange Maina @NjangeWaEunice

By Wednesday last week, four people had been confirmed dead and at least 79 admitted with cholera at various hospitals in Nairobi. Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) alone had 67 of the patients.

By then, more than 381 cases of cholera infection had been reported in Nairobi county since April according to data by the Health ministry. At KNH, a patient (matatu turn-boy) gave details of how he developed intense stomach pains alongside his driver after eating from a roadside joint along enterprise road in Nairobi.

It was after the death of the driver that the conductor went to a medical facility and was later referred to Kenyatta when his condition worsened. Another case involved a man picked up from the streets by an ambulance, taken to Kenyatta hospital but died shortly after. The doctors established that he had died of cholera.

Two more patients died at the hospital while receiving treatment.The number of cholera deaths reported from across the country put in doubt the statistics released recently by Health CS Cleopas Mailu.

With two cases in Vihiga county, one in Murang’a and over two in Nairobi and all confirmed to be cholera, at least five people have died from the highly infectious disease. Among the most hit areas is Mukuru kwa Njenga where the condition is worsened by insufficient health care facilities in the expansive slum.

Njenga Health centre, the only medical facility in the slum had by Thursday evening received 18 cases of cholera in two weeks. By the time People Daily visited the facility, four patients (all admitted in the last 24hours) were receiving treatment among them a two-year-old.

The mother of the child was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital Monday night after intense diarrhoea, only for the child to show similar symptoms 72 hours later. The child was rushed to the facility and was admitted of cholera.

Anthony Warui, also recovering from cholera at the centre said he ate a piece of ‘mutura’ from a roadside stand from which he developed complications. “I last ate mutura and chapati from a stand while going home from work. I was woken up by stomach pains and diarrhoea,” he said.

Most of the patients at Njenga health centre believe they were infected through contaminated water. Because of an acute water shortage, some vendors of the precious commodity are suspected of fetching theirs from sources that are in contact with sewage.

“Most of the cholera cases we are receiving here are of the people who had either taken street food or consumed water from vendors before infection,” says Zipporah Mwangi, clinical officer at the centre.

The government announced to crackdown unlicensed food joints but as late as Friday evening, there was no known case of an unlicensed food business closure. But even as the cholera cases roam, nobody has been apprehended and hundreds of unlicensed food kiosks are still operating some in appallingly unhygienic conditions.

In Muthurwa, along a stretch of food kiosks, a dark-grey stench is seen flowing in a narrow line draining from a nearby organic dumpsite. The stink from dumpsite is smelt a kilometre away.

The kiosk owners make food completely ignorant of the possible danger they are exposing to hundreds of customers who visit them daily and several more who could be endangered indirectly.

“We have not had any cases of cholera here in Muthurwa, cholera is in slums and big hotels,” says a food kiosk owner. According the Health Act of 2012, a person found guilty of selling food without taking adequate measures to guard it against contamination can be fined up to Sh200,000, get a three-year jail term or both.

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