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Districts gear up for meningitis vaccination

By Arnest Tumwesige

Added 17th January 2017 09:43 AM

The last time severe meningitis epidemic was reported in Uganda was in 1997

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The last time severe meningitis epidemic was reported in Uganda was in 1997

After every 10 years epidemiologists predict the reoccurrence of meningococcal meningitis disease in the Africa meningitis belt where Uganda lies.

Greater North comprising of 39 districts is the most vulnerable. In this corridor include; Karamoja, Teso, Lango, Acholi and West Nile sub regions and part of mid-western.

The last time severe meningitis epidemic was reported in Uganda was in 1997.

Jennifer Ocaya from Aywee parish, Pece division in Gulu municipality a survivor of meningitis commended government for the initiative to vaccinate people.

Ocaya who contracted the disease in 2007 told New Vision that she survived by the mercy of God who used one of the closest doctors to identify what she was suffering from.

“I did not know it was meningitis, but the doctor through his wisdom enrolled me on medication and kept monitoring me” she added.

Ocaya who is in her late 30s said for the time she was sick, the house she was nursed from was kept clean and cool with timely taking of prescribed tablets.

Her hope of surviving the diseased narrowed when she tested positive for HIV, a condition many of her friends said was hard to survive.

During Ocaya’s sickness, her neck was always stiff and the back of the head was always sweating.

“It took me two years to recover, but even since then when I think hard, I feel my head burning which doctors said will disappear gradually” Ocaya said.

Dr. Robert Ongom the Omoro District Health Officer (DHO) said this round of vaccination which will be free of charge will last five days, ending January 23rd.

The exercise which commences on January 19th will target nationals and foreigners between 1-29 years.

He said 24.5 million people that fall in the select age category are sufficient to break the line of transmission to those above 30 years.

“Scientists believe that if the majority of people are immunized, the cycle of disease transmission is absolutely distorted” he added.

In Omoro, the exercise will be held at 133 immunization outreach posts to cover the six traditional sub counties.

Ongom said the campaign will also target eligible individuals in detention centres like remand homes, prisons and police cells.

“We have built a collaboration will the administrators of all these institutions to ensure that the exercise achieves its objective” Ongom added.

Dr. Patrick Olwendo the Amuru DHO said the district has already received supplies and vaccines to kick start the exercise.

Olwendo added that immunization will be conducted in all the health facilities and in some selected areas like churches, markets and trading centres.

“The facilities have drugs to cater for a few reported cases of meningitis but if it’s rampant we’ll request from the ministry” he added.

He noted that district leaders including police and the resident district commissioner have been brought on board to ensure that none of the vaccines are stolen by the health workers.

Prof. Anthony Mboye, the acting director general of health services at the Ministry of Health said the vaccination is part of the strategies for the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 3, which is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all people

About meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial form of meningitis, a serious infection of the meninges that affects the brain membrane and spinal cord which is common in sub-Saharan Africa covering a stretch of 26 countries. It can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in 50% of cases if untreated.

Transmission

The bacteria are transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers.

During the dry season between December and June, dust winds, cold nights and upper respiratory tract infections combine to damage the nasopharyngeal mucosa, increasing the risk of meningococcal disease.

Close and prolonged contact such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters (such as a dormitory, sharing eating or drinking utensils) with an infected person facilitates the spread of the disease.

The average incubation period is 4 days, but can range between 2 and 10 days.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms are a stiff neck, high fever, sensitivity to light, confusion, headaches and vomiting.

Bacterial meningitis may result in brain damage, hearing loss or a learning disability in 10 to 20% of survivors.

A less common but even more severe (often fatal) form of meningococcal disease is meningococcal septicaemia, which is characterized by a haemorrhagic rash and rapid circulatory collapse.

Treatment

According to WHO, meningococcal disease is potentially fatal and should always be viewed as a medical emergency.

Admission to a hospital or health centre is necessary, although isolation of the patient is not necessary.

Appropriate antibiotic treatment must be started as soon as possible, ideally after the lumbar puncture has been carried out if such a puncture can be performed immediately.

If treatment is started prior to the lumbar puncture it may be difficult to grow the bacteria from the spinal fluid and confirm the diagnosis.

A range of antibiotics can treat the infection, including penicillin, ampicillin, chloramphenicol and ceftriaxone.

Under epidemic conditions in Africa in areas with limited health infrastructure and resources, ceftriaxone is the drug of choice.

Statistics

According to the global disease burden health grove, annual mortality rate per 100,000 people in Uganda has decreased by 55.8% since 1990 at an average of 2.4 a year.

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