Pope John Paul started World Day of The Sick: What kills most Ugandans

Feb 11, 2021

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda’s burden of disease is dominated by communicable diseases, which account for over 50% of sickness and deaths. Malaria, AIDS, TB, and respiratory, diarrhoea, epidemic-prone, and vaccine-preventable diseases are the leading causes of illness and death.

Pope John Paul started World Day of The Sick: What kills most Ugandans

Hilary Bainemigisha
Editor @New Vision

Today is World Day of the Sick. It was requested by Pope John Paul II, instituted on world calendar days on May 13, 1992, and is celebrated every year on February 11.

The pope said he wanted the world to remember its sick, health givers to reflect on their calling, and governments to invest in health care.

Pope John Paul II had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease as early as 1991 and written a great deal on the topic of suffering.


He chose the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes for the date of the observance because many pilgrims to Lourdes, France, had reportedly been healed at the Marian Sanctuary through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. The ailing pope later died on April 2 of that year.


For this year, Pope Francis called upon believers to devote special attention to the sick and to those who provide them with assistance and care both in healthcare institutions and within families and communities.


“We think in particular of those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, the effects of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. To all, and especially to the poor and the marginalized, I express my spiritual closeness and assure them of the Church’s loving concern,” he said.


He explains that sickness has more than one face: the face of all the sick, but also those who are ignored, excluded, and denied their fundamental rights to health.


“The current pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in our healthcare systems and exposed inefficiencies in the care of the sick. Elderly, weak, and vulnerable people are not always granted access to care, or in an equitable manner. This is the result of political decisions, resource management, and greater or lesser commitment on the part of those holding positions of responsibility. Investing resources in the care and assistance of the sick is a priority linked to the fundamental principle that health is a primary common good,” Pope Francis wrote in his message to World Day of the Sick.


He praised the caregivers whose dedication has been highlighted by the pandemic.


“We salute the dedication and generosity of healthcare personnel, volunteers, support staff, priests, men, and women religious, all of whom have helped, treated, comforted, and served so many of the sick and their families with professionalism, self-giving, responsibility, and love of neighbour. A silent multitude of men and women, they chose not to look the other way but to share the suffering of patients, whom they saw as neighbours and members of our one human family,” he said.


Health in Uganda

The life expectancy for Uganda in 2020 was 63.41 years, a 0.51% increase from 2019. This was a big improvement from 2013 when the life expectancy at birth was 58 years. That was lower than in any other country in the East African Community except Burundi.


By 2015, the probability of a child dying before reaching age five was 5.5% (55 deaths for every 1000 live births). And the total health expenditure was 7.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda’s burden of disease is dominated by communicable diseases, which account for over 50% of sickness and deaths. Malaria, AIDS, TB, and respiratory, diarrhoea, epidemic-prone, and vaccine-preventable diseases are the leading causes of illness and death.


There is also a growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cancers, mental health disorders, diabetes, pressure, and heart diseases.


Geographical disparities


The major challenges affecting the health system are the lack of resources to recruit, deploy, motivate and retain human resources for health, particularly in remote localities; ensuring the quality of the health care services delivered; ensuring the reliability of health information in terms of the quality, timeliness, and completeness of data; and reducing stock-out of essential/tracer medicines and medical supplies.


The emergence of antimicrobial resistance due to the rampant inappropriate use of medicines and irrational prescription practices and the inadequate control of substandard, spurious, falsely labelled, falsified or counterfeit medicines are also key problems in the sector.


Active country


According to WHO, Uganda was the most physically active nation in the world in 2018. A research showed that only 5.5% of Ugandans did not achieve 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense or 75 minutes of rigorous activity per week. Most work is still very physical, travelling was dominated by foot and bicycle and sports activities were extended.


Kampala, however, as well as other urban centres, were not as active because of the use of bodabodas and the infrastructure not being friendly towards walking or cycling.


Common illnesses


As of 2016, the five leading causes of death in Uganda included communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, respiratory tract infections, and diarrheal diseases.


The risk factors most responsible for death and disability include child and maternal malnutrition, unprotected sexual activity, multiple sex partners, contaminated water, poor sanitation, and air pollution.


HIV treatment in Uganda has centered on human antiretroviral therapy (ARVs) which have brought down AIDS deaths tremendously. Studies of HIV-infected adults also showed that risky sexual behaviour declined, contributing to the decline in HIV incidence. Health communication was also listed as a potential cause of inducing behavioural changes in the population.


However, malaria still posts the highest incidence in the world, with 478 people out of 1,000 population being afflicted per year. WHO data published in May 2014, showed malaria accounting for 19,869 deaths in Uganda (6.19% of total deaths).


The government is fighting back through home-based care with the distribution of free mosquito nets, indoor spraying, preventative therapy for pregnant women, and teaching mothers common symptoms in children so as to be able to access medicine early from local health teams.


However, malaria burden remains high and management is further disorganised by inadequate resources and increased resistance to drugs.


Reproductive health

According to UNICEF, Uganda's maternal mortality ratio, the annual number of deaths of women from pregnancy-related causes per 100,000 live births, was 440 from 2008 to 2012.


In rural areas, many women were still seeking the help of traditional birth attendants because of the difficulty in accessing formal health services and high transportation or treatment costs. Malaria remains one of the leading causes of sickness in pregnant women.


Only 47% of women receive the recommended four antenatal care visits, and only 42% of births are attended by skilled health personnel.

Among the poorest 20% of the population, the share of births attended by skill health personnel was 29% in 2006 compared to 77% among the wealthiest 20% of the population. The Human Rights Measurement Initiative gives Uganda a score of 47.9% for contraceptive use.



Malnutrition is a major concern in Uganda, affecting all regions and most segments of the population when the country is a food basket for the region. The country has made tremendous progress in economic growth and poverty reduction over the past 20 years, but its progress in reducing malnutrition remains very slow.


According to the three most recent Uganda Demographic Health Surveys (UDHS), nutrition indicators for young children and their mothers have not improved much over the past 15 years, with some indicators showing a worsening trend.


For example, in 1995, 45% of children under five years old were stunted. 10 years later, the prevalence of stunted under-fives had fallen to only 39% (UDHS, 2006). The Human Rights Measurement Initiative gives Uganda a score of 79.5% for stunted children.



Top 50 dangerous diseases        

  1. AIDS
  2. Influenza and Pneumonia
  3. Stroke
  4. Coronary Heart Disease
  5. Diarrhoeal diseases
  6. Prostate Cancer
  7. Malaria
  8. Liver Disease
  9. Diabetes Mellitus
  10. Road Traffic Accidents
  11. Malnutrition
  12. Cervical Cancer
  13. Other Injuries
  14. Falls
  15. Meningitis
  16. Maternal Conditions
  17. Kidney Disease
  18. Violence
  19. Hypertension
  20. Endocrine Disorders
  21. Suicide
  22. Lung Disease
  23. Fires
  24. Oesophagus Cancer
  25. Low Birth Weight
  26. Birth Trauma
  27. Tuberculosis
  28. Breast Cancer
  29. Drownings
  30. Inflammatory/Heart
  31. Epilepsy
  32. Congenital Anomalies
  33. Skin Disease
  34. Asthma
  35. Liver Cancer
  36. Rheumatoid Arthritis
  37. Rheumatic Heart Disease
  38. Lymphomas
  39. Poisonings
  40. Colon-Rectum Cancers
  41. Ovary Cancer
  42. Hepatitis B
  43. Stomach Cancer
  44. Schistosomiasis
  45. Oral Cancer
  46. Other Neoplasms
  47. Syphilis
  48. Leukemia
  49. Parkinson's Disease
  50. Encephalitis


Total Deaths by Cause

  1. AIDS
  2. Influenza and Pneumonia
  3. Malaria
  4. Diarrhoeal diseases
  5. Stroke
  6. Low Birth Weight
  7. Birth Trauma
  8. Road Traffic Accidents
  9. Coronary Heart Disease
  10. Meningitis
  11. Other Injuries
  12. Malnutrition
  13. Liver Disease
  14. Violence
  15. Congenital Anomalies
  16. Maternal Conditions
  17. Fires
  18. Diabetes Mellitus
  19. Endocrine Disorders
  20. Falls
  21. Tuberculosis
  22. Drownings
  23. Suicide
  24. Kidney Disease
  25. Epilepsy
  26. Syphilis
  27. Lung Disease
  28. Hypertension
  29. Prostate Cancer
  30. Cervical Cancer
  31. Oesophagus Cancer
  32. Poisonings
  33. Inflammatory/Heart
  34. Pertussis
  35. Skin Disease
  36. Measles
  37. Liver Cancer
  38. Rheumatic Heart Disease
  39. Leishmaniasis
  40. Asthma
  41. Rheumatoid Arthritis
  42. Breast Cancer
  43. Lymphomas
  44. Hepatitis B
  45. Trypanosomiasis
  46. Encephalitis
  47. Schistosomiasis
  48. Colon-Rectum Cancers
  49. Leukemia
  50. Oral Cancer


Top cancers in Uganda

  1. Prostate Cancer.
  2. Cervical Cancer
  3. Oesophagus Cancer
  4. Breast Cancer
  5. Liver Cancer
  6. Lymphomas
  7. Colon-Rectum Cancers
  8. Ovary Cancer
  9. Stomach Cancer
  10. Oral Cancer
  11. Leukemia
  12. Lung Cancers
  13. Pancreas Cancer
  14. Skin Cancers
  15. Uterine Cancer
  16. Bladder Cancer






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