By Francis Kagolo
The number of people killed by Hepatitis E, a liver viral disease, in Karamoja region now stands at 23, while 967 other individuals have been infected, according to the latest report from the ministry of health.
This is an increase from 15 deaths reported in early February when the ministry had last updated the public about the epidemic.
Earlier, it was assumed the disease, which was first confirmed in Napak district on December 1, 2013, had come under control.
But Dr. Diana Aceng, the director general of health services, said there has been increasing transmission in the communities, affecting mostly females.
The disease has since spread to other districts of Moroto, Kotido, Nakapiripirit, Abim, Amudat, Katakwi and Amuria.
“At least 967 cases of Hepatitis E infections including 23 deaths have been reported as of March 16, 2014,” she said.
“The disease has increased the risk of maternal death in the Karamoja sub region. A total of 15 (65.7%) of the 23 deaths occurred in expectant mothers, several leaving behind premature babies.”
She made the disclosure during a high level advocacy meeting on Hepatitis E organised by the ministry at the Kampala Golf Course Hotel on Tuesday.
Several government ministers and senior officials from different sectors and development partners attended the meeting during which they used to advocate for increased funding to avert the pandemic.
Hepatitis E is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus, a non-enveloped virus transmitted mainly through drinking contaminated water. The infection usually resolves within four to six weeks, occasionally developing into acute liver failure, which can lead to death.
Globally, there are approximately 20 million incidents of hepatitis E infections and 57,000 related deaths every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Hepatitis E is found in faeces of infected individuals and is spread by consuming drinks or foods that have been contaminated with feaces. The disease is commonly seen in communities that don’t have clean water or latrines.
Karamoja region, where Napak is found, is prone to Hepatitis E because of its low latrine coverage and lack of safe drinking water. Over 75% of households in the 27,900sqkm sub-region lack access to latrines, according to ministry of water and environment reports.
Speaking at the meeting, WHO’s representative in Uganda Dr. Wondi Alemu implored the Government to earmark adequate resources to improve safe water coverage in Karamoja.
Barbra Nekesa, the state minister for Karamoja Affairs, suggested recourse to pumping underground water instead of relying on boreholes which often breakdown.