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Refugee influx hampering elimination of NTDs in Uganda

By Cecilia Okoth

Added 19th November 2018 03:24 PM

While giving an overview of some of the NTDs that the country has managed to tackle, Muheki said cases of Sleeping sickness that is almost being eliminated, were presented among refugees who had come from South Sudan.

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Vector Control Officer, Christopher Katongole (in white coat) explaining about vectors to Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, Health Minister Ruth Acheng, Carter Centre Chief Executive officer Mary Ann Peters, Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Diana Atwiine and other guests. This was during the commissioning of a new block at the centre in Kampala on November 17, 2018. Photo by Lawrence Mulondo.

While giving an overview of some of the NTDs that the country has managed to tackle, Muheki said cases of Sleeping sickness that is almost being eliminated, were presented among refugees who had come from South Sudan.

HEALTH

As Uganda makes huge strides towards the elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), cross boarder movements and the continuous refugee influx especially from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are likely to hamper these efforts.

Dr. Edridah Muheki the assistant commissioner health services in the vector control division under the health ministry listed the above challenges as those that continue to constrain the elimination of NTDs.

While giving an overview of some of the NTDs that the country has managed to tackle,  Muheki said cases of Sleeping sickness that is almost being eliminated, were presented among refugees who had come from South Sudan.

“This year we registered only five cases of Sleeping Sickness however two cases that were chronic in nature, came from South Sudanese refugees,” she said.

Sleeping sickness, also known as African Trypanosomiasis, is classified among the NTDs that continue to ravage particularly districts in the West Nile region and Eastern Uganda.

If a person contracts the disease, symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after the infection and include a red sore (chancre) at the site of the bite, severe headache, lack of appetite, insomnia, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle and joint pain, and sometimes a skin rash.

 (Left to right) Health Minister Ruth Acheng, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and Carter Centre Chief Executive officer Mary Ann Peters cutting cake as other guests look on. This was during the commissioning of a new block at the Centre in Kampala. Photo by Lawrence Mulondo

The illness progresses after a few weeks to weight loss, as well as personality changes, slurred speech, seizures, difficulty balancing and walking resulting from central nervous system failure.

Muheki said the ministry adopted mass treatment for other NTDs like Bilharzia which is attributed to poor sanitation mainly among fishing communities. She however said the drugs used are mainly donated to school going children, calling for funds to cater for the adults.

She said Trachoma on the other hand, though treated through surgery, is only in three districts. Health workers have also been trained to manage patients with Podoconiosis, a type of elephantiasis that is common in soils with minerals.

Muheki said the Division still suffers low staffing levels saying whereas they are meant to have 14 senior officers, they only have three. She said they also experience donor fatigue and little domestic funds.

She made the above remarks during the commissioning of an office block at the Vector Control Division of the health ministry along Buganda road on Friday.

The building was constructed with support from the Carter Centre, as part of efforts to scale up interventions against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)  

The Prime Minister of Uganda, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, who graced the occasion, commended the Carter Centre for supporting the NTDs project, but also collaborating with the country to eliminate the Guinea Worm in Uganda.

He also hailed the Vector Control Division for creating a platform to leverage universal health coverage, saying the country is advocating for a disease free and productive population.

“It is gratifying that Uganda is leading in the elimination of NTDs in the African region. I know partners have played a big role in this and I applaud you for being passionate,” Rugunda said.

Reflecting on the Global instability, Rugunda said although Uganda is hosting refugees from the DRC and South Sudan, these countries are also afflicted by similar diseases (NTDs) and therefore Uganda cannot win the battle of a disease-free population if other countries are lagging behind.

“Whereas Uganda is already taking care of these refuges’ health and wellbeing, some of the partners supporting Uganda are the same that support programmes in these two countries.

He said samples for the neighbouring countries are analysed at the Carter Centre laboratory in Uganda.

Ambassador Mary Peters, the chief executive Officer of the Carter Centre, commended Uganda for adopting a nationwide policy of elimination of River Blindness, saying it is because of this that close to 1.2million are no longer at risk of the disease.

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