Brighton University researchers arrive in Kenya to help fight waterborne diseases

Professor Chris Joyce
Professor Chris Joyce, Professor of Ecology at University of Brighton.

A team of researchers from the University of Brighton have arrived in Kenya to help increase understanding of drinking-water contamination through a workshop in Kisumu. At the workshop, Kenyan academics and technical staff will be shown methods of tracking and mapping sources of drinking water contamination.

The trip is part of the Univeristy of Southampton’s OneHealthWater foundation project which is supported by the British government’s Global Challenges Research Fund. This project is addressing waterborne diseases in rural sub-Saharan Africa, where people and livestock often live in close proximity from their project study site in Siaya County which is the focus of Kenya Medical Research Institute’s (KEMRI) existing Population-Based Animal Syndromic Surveillance (PBASS) system.

Since 2013, the PBASS system has captured livestock illness episodes for selected disease syndromes among 1,500 households. If livestock become unwell with these conditions, households participating in the PBASS study can phone a toll-free number to seek support from a veterinarian. PBASS thus captures disease events in livestock. All of the households participating in the PBASS system also participate in an ongoing Health and Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS), which records disease events in humans.

Monitoring of disease transmission through the environment has been introduced by the OneHealthWater project, alongside human health surveillance through the HDSS and animal health surveillance through the PBASS system. This provides insights into the three parts of a ‘one health’ approach to disease – a healthy environment, healthy humans, and healthy animals.

Siaya County still faces many challenges in terms of human health, animal health, and water and sanitation.

A 2011 household survey suggested that about 20% of children under 5 years had experienced diarrhoea within a period of two weeks prior to the survey.

Findings from KEMRI’s PBASS study suggest that ill health in humans is linked to ill health in their livestock: when livestock are ill, humans are at greater risk of ill health too. Environmental conditions may well explain why such a link exists.

For example, 29% of households in Siaya County were using streams, rivers or dams as their main source of drinking-water, with 21% taking half an hour or longer to visit their drinking-water source, get water and return.

16% of households were still practicing open defecation, having no sanitation facilities accessible to them.

University of Brighton’s Centre for Aquatic Environments Director Professor Chris Joyce said: “Our research is improving understanding of the transmission pathways of waterborne diseases such as typhoid and cholera in low-resource and emergency settings, and is helping global efforts to identify and apply practical low-cost interventions.”

According to the World Health Organisation, diarrhoeal disease alone is responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million people every year and it is estimated that 58 per cent of this is attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

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