By Moses Walubiri and Cyprian Musoke
Government has earmarked $11m (about sh2.7b) to conduct immediate massive vaccination in 11 districts with the highest prevalence rate of Hepatitis B as legislators caution that inability to conduct countrywide vaccination might see the disease degenerate into an epidemic.
The 11 districts include Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, Arua, Adjumani, Yumbe, Moyo, Kasese, Ngora, Bukedea and Amuria.
In many of these districts, Hepatitis B prevalence rate is over 20% of the population – a figure higher than the national HIV prevalence rate which hovers around 7%.
According to Minister of State for Health, Sarah Opendi, government is amenable to rollout the vaccination program to the rest of the country as the Centre for Disease Control warns of the incipient dangers of ignoring the disease.
“Government is financially constrained yet the exercise is very expensive,” Opendi told the House on Wednesday, revealing that $30M (about sh76.2b) will be expended on rolling out the second phase of the program which will be countrywide.
Opendi evoked the ire of MPs Wamanga Wamai, Ababiku Jessica and Gilbert Olanya for suggesting that rich people should foot their vaccination bills which she said goes for sh90,000.
“We legislate for poor people in our constituencies. How many people in your constituency can afford this kind of money?” Wamanga asked.
A highly infectious disease that normally destroys the livers of its victims, Hepatitis B, according to Mbarara Municipality MP, Dr. Medard Bitekyerezo, “has no known cure.”
Palliative care in Uganda is way beyond the means of many ordinary people, with few viral load testing machines in high-end private and public hospitals. A single viral test, Opendi said, goes for sh300,000.
Government, Opendi revealed, cannot afford to buy these machines for all public hospitals, instead opting for cheaper testing kids which can be accessed at many hospitals.
The disease is caused by Hepatitis B virus and is prevalent mainly in Asia and Africa – with a raging pandemic in China.
The virus is transmitted by exposure to infectious blood or body fluids such as semen and vaginal fluids, while viral DNA has been detected in the saliva, tears, and urine of chronic carriers.
Medical evidence suggests that many people infected with Hepatitis B and manage to access the very expensive combination of palliative drugs tend to become carriers after developing immunity to the disease.
However, just like HIV/AIDS, this category of people continues to infect others unknowingly either through unsafe sex, unsafe blood transfusion or sharing sharp objects.
In Uganda, government offers free countrywide vaccination for children under five and people undergoing blood transfusion in government hospitals.
The house was debating the Health Committee report on the outbreak of Hepatitis B in Adjumani district, following a petition by the woman MP, Ababiku.