Meet the Kenyan doctor taking on influenza

With increasing numbers succumbing to influenza, especially children, a Kenyan doctor initiates a vaccine drive in Jomvu sub-county.

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Parents in Changamwe bring their children to get the Influenza vaccine. Credit: Cyrus Michino
 

 

While influenza is considered mild by many, it is potentially fatal, especially for disadvantaged children. Mombasa County, a region on Kenya’s coast with diverse geographical and socio-cultural characteristics, has been experiencing higher than normal infection rates.

Jomvu sub-county recorded a total of 3,250 cases in less than a year. About half the numbers recorded were Influenza H3N2, a subtype of the Influenza A strain.

"I brought my kid to receive the influenza vaccine jab, and the exercise is swift. There is no wastage of time, so a parent can bring their child and then carry on with their business. Even better, the vaccines are free."

From the 3,250 cases, about 719 – mainly infant – patients died. These high numbers prompted Dr Lulu Dawa, senior Medical Epidemiologist at Washington State University Global Health Programme, Kenya, to act quickly. She could not sit back and witness another innocent life perish, and took it upon herself to initiate an influenza vaccine drive.

Dr Dawa and her team, in collaboration with the National Vaccine and Immunisation Programme (NVIP) and Kenya’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC), administered the Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine that covers four strains: Influenza A H1N1, A H3N3, and two subtypes of Influenza B.

“The cost implications of influenza treatment are substantial. Parents are barely making ends meet and treatment expenses add to the soaring cost of living. I have a team of four and, in collaboration with the Mombasa County Ministry of Health, we are traversing Jomvu sub-county to offer vaccines to children between six months and 23 months old,” remarks Dr Dawa.

The standard price for an influenza jab is KSH 5,000 (+/- $42) in private hospitals, which few parents can afford. The support of the NVIP and Kenya’s CDC enables Dr Dawa and her team to administer the jabs for free.

Her team, which consists of two nurses – Liz Mwashumbe and Joan Mwongela – and two clinicians – Karim Mwashetani and Hassan Abdi – are leading the exercise.

Nurses Liz Mwashumbe and Joan Mwongela offer Influenza vaccines to kids in Jomvu Sub-county, Mombasa County. Credit: Cyrus Michino
Nurses Liz Mwashumbe and Joan Mwongela offer Influenza vaccines to kids in Jomvu Sub-county, Mombasa County.
Credit: Cyrus Michino

“We started by mobilising parents with children aged between six and 23 months, educating them on the importance of influenza vaccination and following up with administering the influenza vaccine jabs,” states Mwashetani.

Mwashumbe adds, “While giving the children the influenza vaccine jabs, we insisted that all wear facial masks to prevent transmission of communicable diseases. It is essential to remember that COVID-19 is still here, and prevention is better than cure.”

“This flu has been contagious in Changamwe, and these vaccines will benefit our children. There have been multiple deaths from influenza, and I was worried for my young one,” says Shifaa Abdulla, a mother from Changamwe, one of the wards in Jomvu sub-county.

“I brought my kid to receive the influenza vaccine jab, and the exercise is swift. There is no wastage of time, so a parent can bring their child and then carry on with their business. Even better, the vaccines are free. I appreciate the work of our medics,” adds enthusiastic mother, Martha Mvurya.

“I received the news of the vaccination against this flu. I came hastily after hearing that the exercise was free. The medical experts have given my nine-month-old daughter her dose. I am immensely relieved,” notes another elated mother, Mwakisha Sharon.

With over 19,500 doses of the Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine issued, Jomvu sub-county has experienced a massive decline in influenza cases. However Dr Dawa wants the programme to reach further.

“There is no scheduled vaccination for influenza in Jomvu Sub-county and Mombasa County at large. As a result, we can hardly keep statistics on who has or has not received the doses. That said, I will work with the county health ministry and push to include influenza in the annual immunisation programme,” declares Dr Dawa.