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Africa: Rodent slum study highlights health dangers for NGO expatriate workers
A recent study carried out by scientists at the University of Glasgow and published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene suggests that one in five rodents in a Kenyan slum carries a disease that causes fever and illness in humans. Scientists discovered a significant percentage of the rats and mice in Nairobi's Kibera slum - one the largest in the world - were carrying Leptospira bacteria in their kidneys.
The bacteria can be passed to humans through contact with urine causing the disease leptospirosis which in mild forms results in fever, headache and nausea, or in serious cases can cause organ damage - when it is more commonly known as Weil's disease. The study also found that most residents in Kibera spot at least one rat in their house every day, according to a questionnaire survey of 100 households. Around 60% of households in and around Kibera reported seeing groups of five or more rodents in their house every day while 66% reported weekly or daily sightings of fresh droppings in their house.
Dr Jo Halliday, of the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, who led the study said: "Our study really emphasises the need to quantify the burden of human illness not only in places like Kibera, but elsewhere, to raise awareness of this neglected disease amongst health care professionals, and to develop effective disease control programs." Studies such as those carried out by the University of Glasgow underline the importance of work carried out by NGOs in developing nations such as Kenya.
They also underline the importance of NGO international health insurance. According to the NGO Bureau which registers and coordinates NGO activity in Kenya, there are between 5000 and 7000 NGOs currently providing services to the community. The range of activities covers most areas from caring for orphans through to HIV and Aids charities and water treatment, where organisations such as WaterAid, who estimate 16 million Kenyans still lack access to safe water, are actively working on ways of bring safe water and improved sanitation to the population.
Commenting on the research Debbie Purser, CEO of April International UK said, “This survey highlights both the appalling levels of sanitation which exist in such slums but also the risk of exposure to disease faced by many expatriates who may be living alongside the local population, such as NGO workers. For NGO teams, ready access to good quality international private healthcare for front line staff is essential, as the speed with which a patient is treated is often a factor in how quickly and fully they can recover. In such circumstances, it is reassuring to know that our plans provide cover for a patient to be airlifted out, should the need arise. With Kenya still recovering from the shock of the recent shopping mall attack, it is also important for NGOs to check that their international private health insurer is able operate in what might be classified as a high risk area too.”