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Health ministry to carry out mass treatment of river blindness

By Cecilia Okoth

Added 8th August 2019 11:54 AM

Aceng said the ministry, working closely with the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR, will administer mass treatment to only eligible refugees.

Health ministry  to carry out mass treatment of river blindness

(Left to right ) Minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda Onchocerciasis Elimination Expert Advisory Committee Chairman Thomas Unnasch and World Health Organization representative Yonas Woldermariam during the 12th session of Uganda Onchocerciasis Elimination Expert Advisory Committee meeting. (Photo by Nancy Nanyonga )

Aceng said the ministry, working closely with the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR, will administer mass treatment to only eligible refugees.

HEALTH

The Health Ministry is set to carry out mass treatment of river blindness in refugee settlements in Northern Uganda.

This according to Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng is to rid the country of any potential threats of river blindness, also known as Onchocerciasis.

 "Uganda is one of the countries hosting the biggest number of refugees and I know that some of our sisters and brothers in refugee settlements came from onchocerciasis endemic areas and therefore need mass treatment," Aceng said.

She made the remarks during the 12th session of the Onchocerciasis elimination expert advisory committee meeting in Kampala on Tuesday.

Aceng said the ministry, working closely with the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR, will administer mass treatment to only eligible refugees.

River blindness, also known as onchocerciasis, is a disease transmitted through bites from black flies which breed in fast-flowing rivers and streams and forested regions.

 After a bite, the larvae enter the host's skin where they slowly grow into adult worms. A female worm can produce 1,000 worms per day. Symptoms include severe itching, disfiguring skin conditions, and visual impairment, including permanent blindness.

 Onchocerciasis is one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), a class of diseases that generally afflict the world's poor and historically have not received as much attention as other diseases.

 Globally, the disease is endemic in 35 countries where more than 120 million people are at risk of acquiring the infection.

 In Africa, the disease is endemic in 31 countries where 37 million are infected, 800,000 visually impaired and 270,000 have gone blind as a result of the infection.

Uganda became an African success story in the campaign for the elimination of river blindness through mass drug administration and killing of black flies, the vectors that spread the disease-causing parasite.

However, speaking at the event, Dr Frank Richards, the Director of Onchocerciasis at the Carter Centre in the US said although Uganda has made enormous strides in the fight against NTDs, the treatment of refugees, particularly against River Blindness, is pertinent to eliminating the disease in Uganda.

 "River Blindness could threaten the borders of Uganda if an infected black fly flies across the border and bites an individual. The other is if a refugee from an infected area comes to Uganda and settles where the black fly vector exists, that person can infect the vector and transmission could start," Richards said.

"When Uganda reaches the point of asking for certification that it has eliminated transmission of the disease, they will have to explain this issue (refugees), satisfactorily to WHO such that it provides the documentation that Uganda seeks," Richards stated.

 David Oguttu, the program manager, river blindness said a survey was already conducted to ascertain the number of refugees that are eligible for treatment.

Refugees eligible for the treatment Oguttu said, mostly hail from Kajokeji, Yei State in South Sudan where River Blindness is endemic. Kajokeji borders Moyo district.

He said refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who have settled in Arua and Koboko pose no risk to the country because River Blindness was eliminated in the area.

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