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Govt must review its ways of handling epidemics

By Vision Reporter

Added 23rd September 2009 03:00 AM

IN 1998 panic gripped the country, at the outbreak of Ebola; the Government was caught napping. We lost very resourceful persons including Dr. Matthew Lukwiya. Since then, serious and minor epidemics have taken place almost every year.

IN 1998 panic gripped the country, at the outbreak of Ebola; the Government was caught napping. We lost very resourceful persons including Dr. Matthew Lukwiya. Since then, serious and minor epidemics have taken place almost every year.

By Edward Kahuma

IN 1998 panic gripped the country, at the outbreak of Ebola; the Government was caught napping. We lost very resourceful persons including Dr. Matthew Lukwiya. Since then, serious and minor epidemics have taken place almost every year.

The last Ebola epidemic which occurred in 2007 claimed the lives of several health workers, including Dr. Jonah Kule. The question is, when will the Government learn to take the necessary precautions before such epidemics occur?

In 1998, health experts called for the total overhaul of the entire health delivery systems in the country, if we are to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As usual promises were made then, that the Ministry of Health would take pro-active measures, so that epidemics or other infectious diseases would be quickly controlled to minimise deaths — but unfortunately, this has not happened.

Take the current scare of waragi deaths. Our health ministry officials are merely taking a defensive posture, instead of responding with robust means.

The health officials have spent a good part of the last five weeks guessing and debating as to whether it is methanol poisoning in the alcohol or witchcraft. This is incredible.

Some doctors are even hinting that it could be a new epidemic altogether. This is how uncoordinated our health officials are.

How can health officials fail to make accurate diagnosis of a disease in this 21st Century? Undoubtedly, the clinical symptoms exhibited in most patients point to external contamination. Health investigators should zero on what type of external contamination this is.

It is sad to note that a big part of the population has resorted to primitive practices of 40 years ago. Could this be because the Government officially recognised traditional African religions?

Surely, how can the Police call for the services of Maama Phina to quell the so-called evil spirits, when clinically speaking, these deaths were a result of alcoholic poisoning. Does this mean a total succumb to traditional gods or is it a tacit acknowledgement by the Government that it has failed in its responsibility to provide adequate health services to the population?

It is sad to note that ignorance and primitivity is still at its highest despite universal primary and secondary education. With due respect to the health minister, Stephen Mallinga and his assistants, I would like to humbly request the Ministry of Health to review and undertake the following measures — if this country is to have a credible health delivery system:

The department of public health should be strengthened and adequately funded.

In the past, there were health inspectors, they used to work tirelessly to ensure homes had pit latrines and garbage disposal pits. Why can’t the Government reactivate such departments by reinforcing them with personnel and finances. Most of these recurring diseases and epidemics can be prevented if the population is sensitised on hygiene and sanitation sufficiently.

The Uganda National Bureau of Standards should work closely with the health ministry to confiscate counterfeit products some of which are responsible for the deaths in Kasese, Mpigi and Kampala.

The use of methanol in preparing alcohol products should be banned in this country.

The Government should enact a law and formulate a policy to regulate: the licensing of facilities like bars and bufundas (drinking places). Secondly the policy should regulate the buying and selling of alcohol.

The age for alcohol consumption should also be regulated. Presently, school going children and the elderly have equal access to local brew, spirits, vodka, Kasese gin and the end result is death.

Drinking hours must be regulated (opening and closing of drinking places).

There should be a total review and overhaul of the health delivery systems. With the above measures we can hope for a better health for Ugandans.
The writer is an epidemiologist

Govt must review its ways of handling epidemics

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