Judith Akolo

Studies undertaken in most urban areas in the country by experts in the water sector now indicate that the water sources are contaminated with antimicrobials.

In 'An Enemy of the People' a play written by Henrik Ibsen, the setting is slightly different since it is about water in the baths at a spa and not water in taps in the urban centers. But the common denominator is that, we are talking about water that we assume is portable and therefore safe for use.

In 1882, playwright Henrik Ibsen showed how politics can stand in the way of science, as the scientists struggles to save the public from danger. In An Enemy of People, Dr. Thomas Stockmann who is well meaning and wants the issue of the contaminated water exposed, is blocked by his brother Peter Stockmann who is the mayor of the Norwegian city.

The Mayor wonders how, “small animals in the water that cannot be seen by the naked eye” could be harmful to human beings. Politics wins as the public is always ignorant and cannot question. With time and two centuries apart, political leaders are now able to push the science agenda with the aim of protecting the public from infection.

Kiambu Governor Kimani Wamatangi has come out to state clearly that indeed the borehole water in Kiambu is contaminated.

At a recent meeting in Ruiru Sub-County, Governor Wamatangi said that the haphazard construction of houses in the county has seen the blockage of sewerage systems, with some getting punctured and spewing raw sewage into water sources. He warns the residents that indeed water River Ruiru is contaminated with waste some of which could be causing the spread of cholera.

Governor Wamatangi also warned residents against using borehole water as it is contaminated with too with waste arising from seepage from poorly and unplanned constructions in the county.

Studies in the water sector now indicate that most of the water supplied to urban areas contains contaminants including antimicrobials. Antimicrobials are synthetic, natural chemicals or biological agents used to deter and fight unwanted harmful pests, organisms, bacteria, virus, fungi and protozoa.

But due to poor handling by the public, these antimicrobials are ending up in our food, especially vegetables like spinach and sukuma wiki which is grown along river valleys and riparian areas which have lately been turned into open sewers with most of the water coming from runoff rain water that carries all manner of garbage from the streets, the houses and markets.

Speaking a workshop on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) a Water Quality Manager, at Water Resource Authority (WRA) Fred Nyongesa says the most common of antimicrobials being detected in water are herbicides which account for approximately 80% of all pesticide use.

Nyongesa says that over the counter sale of medicines has also seen tests undertaken on water showing medicine components in water, a case in point is the presence of “Metronidazole, sold under the brand name Flagyl among others, is an antibiotic and antiprotozoal medication,” Nyongesa says and adds “this has been found in high amounts, as well as Sulfamethoxazole, whose brand name is Bactrim is an antibiotic used in managing bacterial infections.”

Nyongesa explains that the mere nature of the tablets makes it possible to dissolve readily in water. “Another way through which antimicrobials get into the water is when patients do not complete their doses and end up flashing the remaining medicines in the sinks, or toilets others are thrown in the garbage which get into the water cycle through seepage,” he says.

He warns that the current water supply infrastructure cannot purify water of antimicrobials, hence they end up in the water used by the public.

Continued antimicrobial resistance may complicate disease management as most patients suffering from a bacteria that becomes resistant to the first line of antibiotics may require that such a patient is moved to the second line of treatment, which may be more expensive and out of the reach of many people, “in essence driving up poverty,” warns Nyongesa.

Antimicrobial resistance can also impact economic growth, since the national budget may be spent on procuring medicines, “instead of investing in productive areas of the economy,” he says.

There is need to prioritize the antimicrobial based on the modes of applications and usage index so that supply meets demand and there is no wastage.

According to the World Health Organistion (WHO) it is expected that over 10 million deaths per year will be recorded by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) hence becoming one of the most challenging threats for humankind with far reaching economic and social implications.

Judith Akolo is a Development Journalist with Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and is also a Masters Climate Change and Adaptation student at the University of Nairobi.

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