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Machine to test waragi deaths down

By Vision Reporter

Added 3rd September 2009 03:00 AM

THE laboratory machine that needs to establish whether the various deaths in the country are caused by a poisonous alcohol has not been functional for several weeks.

BY S. CANDIA, F. KAGOLO & F. WOMAKUYU

THE laboratory machine that needs to establish whether the various deaths in the country are caused by a poisonous alcohol has not been functional for several weeks.

Consequently, the samples taken from Kasese, Mpigi and Kulambiro, where the mysterious deaths occurred, could not be tested.

Speaking to The New Vision yesterday, the commissioner in charge of the Government laboratory at Wandegeya, Ally Lugudo, said ever since the first samples of deceased patients were taken there last week, no tests have been carried out.

“A vital part of the machine has broken down and it needs replacement. The first samples from Kulambiro and Kasese are yet to be worked on.”

Asked when the machine will be operational, Lugudo said: “The Government has taken over two months now. We informed the ministry about it but the bureaucracy by some people in the ministry of internal affairs has put everything on hold.”

He lamented that this has caused a huge case backlog. “I cannot disclose the number of pending cases but they are very many.”

He said the particular spare part was not expensive and could be bought on the local market. “If I had money, I would have purchased it from my own savings.”

He added that although they are suspecting waragi as the cause of death, he noted that two children below the age of five in western Uganda had presented similar symptoms.

The symptoms include loss of eye sight, thirst, vomiting, headache, and general body weakness, paralysis of limbs and death within 24 hours.

Meanwhile, four more people died of the disease in Mpigi district, bringing the total number there to eight, according to officials.

The deaths occurred in Bukabi village, Kammengo sub-county during the weekend.

Country-wide, over 20 are suspected to have died of the poisonous waragi. Sixteen others, 12 of whom from Mpigi, were hospitalised in different health centers but were discharged after they improved.

In Mpigi, one patient, identified as Matiya Ssekamwa, 55, became blind after his eye nerves were damaged, the district health surveillance focal person, Dr. Godfrey Kaggwa, said yesterday.

“We examined Ssekamwa’s eyes. We discovered that some of his nerves, which help to see, had been destroyed. We know methanol (poisonous alcohol) can cause this.”

The health ministry last week reported three deaths in Kulambiro, a Kampala suburb. Another six people, who included four prison warders, died in Ibuga and Mubuku in Kasese district.

Dr. Kenya-Mugisha, the director for clinical services, said yesterday that the ministry will consider poisonous waragi as the cause of death until it is ruled out by the Government chemist.

“We are preparing to send a team from WHO, UNBS and the ministry to the affected areas to investigate the cause. But you, the media, should decampaign the small sachets. We think they have toxic alcohol,” Mugisha told The New Vision.

Several ministers are expected to meet today to discuss the matter. “We have a major meeting to look at this matter broadly,” ethics minister James Nsaba Buturo said yesterday at the media centre.

Alcoholism in the country had reached worrying levels and had affected the productivity of the nation, he noted.

He said the availability of cheap potent liquor had made matters worse, ruining families and the economy.

“Throughout the country, men, women and even children are no longer working but drinking the easily available liquors in sachets, which at time go for as little as sh100.”

The minister narrated that he was in Koboko district over the weekend and found most people already drunk at day time.

“It is the same in Kasese and Kibale. Everywhere, people are drunk and unable to work by 10:00am,” he complained.

Machine to test waragi deaths down

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