By Taddeo Bwambale and Aisha Naiga
AT least 2.7 million Ugandans are no longer at risk of contracting river blindness in infection in Uganda, the state minister for health (primary healthcare), Dr Sarah Opendi has said.
River blindness, known scientifically as onchocerciasis, is a parasitic infection that can cause intense itching, skin discoloration, rashes, and eye disease that can lead to permanent blindness.
It is transmitted through bites of female black flies that breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers, hence the commonly known name of 'river blindness'.
At its peak, river blindness was endemic in 35 districts, with an estimated 4.2 million people at risk of infection.
A report by the Uganda onchocerciasis elimination expert advisory committee on Thursday shows that transmission the disease has been transmitted in 14 focal sites out of 17.
The 14-member advisory committee that comprises local and international health experts meets annually to review progress and advise the health ministry on efforts to eliminate river blindness.
At its meeting in Kampala on Thursday, the committee confirmed that transmission of the disease had been interrupted in Moyo district and recommended that mass treatment be halted.
The advisory team recommended that mass treatment of residents with ivermectin in the district be halted but post-treatment surveillance will be conducted in the area for at least three years.
Arua, Nebbi, Zombo, Buliisa, Hoima and Masindi are classified as areas where transmission may have been interrupted, after recording a drop in number of infected persons and black flies.
Prevalence of river blindness in Uganda has dropped from 70% in 1993 to about 5% presently.
In 2007, Uganda was the first African country to adopt the approach of eliminating the disease by combining mass treatment of patients and spraying to kill the black fly.
Dr Opendi attributed Uganda’s success to a combined approach that employs the use of village health teams, a robust surveillance network and engaging district leaders in affected sites.
She said Uganda was on course to meet its target of eliminating river blindness and other neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma, elephantiasis and bilharzia by 2020.
The ministry of health, with support from the Carter Center, has set up a molecular laboratory in Kampala to test prevalence of river blindness infection in affected districts,
Dr Edridah Tukamuhebwa, the health ministry’s focal person on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) said the new lab would help quicken analysis of specimen from river blindness patients.
Tukamuhebwa said the lab would also help in quick diagnosis of Malaria, elephantiasis and trachoma which are endemic in regions where river blindness has been prevalent.
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