TOP
Thursday,September 24,2020 11:37 AM

Uganda at risk of more epidemics - experts

By Vision Reporter

Added 19th October 2008 03:00 AM

LATELY, Marburg, Ebola and Hepatitis E have been the talk everywhere. When two rare strains of meningitis also appeared, let alone cholera which only two weeks ago claimed six lives in Kinawataka, a Kampala suburb, the very word Uganda came to conjure the idea of an epicentre of epidemics.

LATELY, Marburg, Ebola and Hepatitis E have been the talk everywhere. When two rare strains of meningitis also appeared, let alone cholera which only two weeks ago claimed six lives in Kinawataka, a Kampala suburb, the very word Uganda came to conjure the idea of an epicentre of epidemics.



LATELY, Marburg, Ebola and Hepatitis E have been the talk everywhere. When two rare strains of meningitis also appeared, let alone cholera which only two weeks ago claimed six lives in Kinawataka, a Kampala suburb, the very word Uganda came to conjure the idea of an epicentre of epidemics.

Experts in viral diseases believe the continuing destruction of forests and contact with wildlife are fueling the unprecedented epidemics.

They say increased contact with previously untouched nature is bringing arboviruses, a class of viruses carried from animals to humans by insects, spiders and other bugs.

The viruses cause many diseases in humans, ranging from self-limiting fevers to deadly haemorrhagic ones that cause bleeding like ebola, as well as infections of the brain almost as lethal as meningitis.

“Changes to the environment create conditions that favour the emergence of arboviruses in human communities,” a report by two leading virologist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute says.

Last year, the public and environmentalists battled with the Government over the proposed turn over of 7,000 hectares of Mabira forest, to the Sugar Company of Uganda Limited for sugarcane growing.

Opponents of the plan argued that cutting down the country’s largest natural forest and ecological reserve would have far-reaching effects on weather patterns, accelerate the reduction of biodiversity, and degrade Uganda’s precarious ecosystems and hydro-electricity generation potential.

“Anybody who had any doubts about what we have been saying now has an informed and independent opinion on the ongoing destruction of the environment,” says Frank Muramuzi, who headed the Save Mabira Crusade.

“When we decimate the natural host of the virus, it will come after us. This is a question of self-defence .”

Top among the arboviruses are Ebola, Marburg, yellow fever, the Rift Valley Fever, dengue fever and the West Nile Fever. Others are the so-called Chikungunya, O’nyong-nyong, Crimean-Congo haemorrhage fever and bird flu.

“The situation is aggravated by the fact the Uganda’s surveillance and response systems are virtually non-existent. The situation is not optimistic,” says Dr. Pontiano Kaleebu, an expert on HIV/AIDS.

Many infections are undiagnosed, and the magnitude of the public threat is, being underestimated, says Dr. Sam Okware, commissioner for community health in the Ministry of Health.

Where they occur, the diseases are brushed off as cases of common infections. In some communities they are even regarded as witchcraft.

Okware says: “The non-specific nature of clinical signs and symptoms of arbovirus infections, may be confused with illnesses such as malaria, typhoid, worms, dysentery and bacterial meningitis.”

He adds that the worst of viruses that could break out soon is the Crimean-Congo haemorrhage fever. The disease causes severe bleeding, with an infection rate higher than that of Ebola.

The virus, whose main vector are ticks, poses the biggest danger to Uganda’s pastoralist communities along the cattle corridor. It was first isolated in a sick cow in the central Rift Valley town of Nakuru in 1965. In 1975 it was detected on a dying sheep by scientists in Kenya.
More recently, a human case was diagnosed in western Kenya.

Because the disease is mostly tick-borne, medical experts say that any outbreak is unlikely to penetrate densely population areas like towns.

Last year, 37 of the 148 people infected with ebola in Bundibugyo, including five medical staff, died. Earlier, a miner had died of the marburg fever in the neighbouring district of Kamwenge.

Medical experts, agree that the cases reported, only involved people seen at heath centres, but did not reflect the full impact.

More people died, indicating that the early stages of epidemics are usually ignored.
Julius Sunday, the head of Kikyo Health Centre says the spate was initially attributed to “highland malaria” and “witchcraft”

Other than Ebola, experts say dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus, is the most serious threat to public health with 20 million infections recorded worldwide.

Uganda at risk of more epidemics - experts

Related articles

More From The Author

More From The Author