By Francis Kagolo
Uganda has become one of the first countries Africa to contain measles, having not recorded a single death in over two years.
The latest information from the ministry of health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) also indicates that measles cases reduced by over 95% across the country.
Dr. Jacinta Sabiiti, a senior medical officer in the ministry and leader of the national expanded program on immunisation (UNEPI), said the last measles death reported in Uganda occurred in 2009.
Measles, an acute viral respiratory illness associated with high fever, rashes and vomiting, is considered one of the most deadly vaccine-preventable diseases, accounting for an estimated 777,000 childhood deaths per year worldwide, with more than half occurring in Africa, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Apart from death, children who are affected by measles may suffer from life-long disability including brain damage, blindness and deafness.
In Uganda, Measles deaths reduced from 6,000 to 300 between 1996 and 2006 and to none currently.
Sabiiti and WHO officials attributed the achievement to aggressive immunisation of children against killer diseases, measles inclusive. Babies are vaccinated against Measles at the age of nine months.
This was revealed during a breakfast meeting between ministry of health officials and media owners, managers and reporters at the Kampala Imperial Royale Hotel Wednesday.
Sabiiti was optimistic that the nation-wide mass measles vaccination slated to take place next year would augment the success to kick out the disease.
The ministry and WHO in 2002 increased the number of immunisable diseases in Uganda from the traditional six to eight before the baby is one year old.
Besides measles, others include Polio, tuberculosis, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B, influenza B and diphtheria. Uganda was also among the first African countries to be declared polio free in 2006 by the WHO, thanks to routine immunisation.
However, the experts yesterday noted that Uganda was lagging behind in tetanus immunisation, mainly among women.
Dr. Annet Kisakye, the WHO’s country advisor on immunisation, said only 51% of Ugandan pregnant women get immunized against tetanus compared to the ideal 80%. On the other hand, only 12% of women of child bearing age (15-49) are immunized, a figure Kisakye said was worrying.
Dr. Joachim Saweka, the WHO representative, commended Uganda for the great strides attained in the health sector. He said WHO had earmarked over sh3b to carry out house-to-house polio immunisation in 30 districts near the Kenyan and DR Congo borders. The two exercises kick off next week and will end a week before Christmas.
Saweka, however, urged the Government to increase funding and not to solely depend on donors for immunisation programmes.
Uganda wipes out measles