Researchers in Kenya have reportedly identified two new strains of common sexually transmitted diseases among a group of women in a town in western Kenya. The discovery came as investigators sought to understand why two hospitals in Busia County, which borders Uganda, were recording rising cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The study revealed that more than 400 women above the age of 15 were diagnosed with gonorrhoea and chlamydia with new mutations. The researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute fear that the disease could spread to neighbouring Uganda, as the town of Busia is situated along the border, where truck drivers stop.
According to Shillah Simiyu, a Kenyan epidemiologist, Busia presents high numbers of sexually transmitted diseases due to increased sexual activities, by virtue of being a border town where truck drivers stop. Simiyu says there is an urgent need to conduct a mixed methods study involving social, epidemiological and laboratory science approaches.
The researchers are planning to conduct more studies to establish how widespread the disease is and whether the new mutations can be treated by standard antibiotics. They said the changes on the genetic makeup of the virus had not been seen before.
In January 2023, medics said the drug-resistant super gonorrhoea was first detected in samples taken from sex workers in the capital city, Nairobi, and other urban areas like Kiambu County. The medical investigation was prompted by reports by medics indicating there was a surge in cases of patients seeking treatment for STIs towards the end of 2022. Dr. Amina Abdullahi, one of the researchers who made the discovery at Kemri, told the local press, according to a report from DownToEarth.
The outbreak of Neisseria gonorrhoea is not just a threat to the citizens of the East African anchor state but the region as a whole, according to experts. Gonorrhoea is the second-most common disease to be sexually transmitted across the world after chlamydia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Documents by Kenya’s ministry of health, including The Kenya National Guidelines for Prevention, Management, and Control of STIs, show that Kenya’s infertility prevalence is estimated to be 11.9%. The country’s infertility is likely to increase with the outbreak of drug-resistant gonorrhoea and other eventual STIs, researchers at Kemri and other medical experts have warned. This can have devastating effects on the country’s development agenda.
A majority of Kenyans reportedly buy antibiotics and never seek treatment, promoting the mutation of STIs. A quick survey of chemists around Nairobi showed that medication to treat ‘STI-like symptoms’ is among their top ten frequently purchased products. The researchers stress the importance of seeking medical attention when symptoms of STIs occur, as prompt treatment can prevent the spread of infections and reduce the risk of drug resistance.