By Gladys Kalibbala
SIX-MONTH old Desire Naita did not wake up at all or make any movement during the 128km journey to the hospital. His mother, Vashti Katooko was worried as her baby had a high temperature.
â€œI started wailing as I followed my husband who was carrying him,â€ she says. She had lost hope, thinking her baby was about to die.
â€œThe boy did not wake up at all to suck during the long journey,â€ Katooko says.
It was only after they were referred to the National Livestock Resources Research Institute in Tororo, that it was discovered that Naita was suffering from sleeping sickness and was treated.
Katooko recalls that her baby got a fever which persisted for several days. He was unsuccessfully treated for malaria. Then, she noticed a swelling on his back.
She and her husband moved from their home in Pallisa to search for a cure for their child. None of the hospitals they went to could diagnose the little boyâ€™s disease.
After losing their way several times, Katooko and her husband finally located the research institute in Tororo.
Nursing her recovering baby, Katooko says she has, over the years, watched many people die silently from the same disease.
â€œI have seen many die in our neighbourhood from a similar condition but had never known that it was sleeping sickness. Many people thought it was witchcraft,â€she recalls.
Katooko, an unemployed teacher, appealed to the Government to sensitise the public about sleeping sickness to avoid unnecessary suffering and deaths.
Sleeping sickness is endemic in southeast Uganda.
The disease is caused by the trypanasome parasite and transmitted through the bite of a tsetse fly.
Soroti has the highest number of cases at 419, followed by Kamuli with 318, Iganga 283 and Kaberamaido 249.
Dr. Abbas Kakembo, of the vector control department at the Ministry of Health, appealed to health workers in tsetse fly-infested areas to conduct tests for sleeping sickness.
â€œHealth workers should test all patients who donâ€™t respond to malaria treatment,â€ he said
He explained that in the early stage of the disease, a patient experiences fever, headache, joint pains, itching, enlarged lymph nodes and becomes anaemic. Kakembo said all cases have to be hospitalised and treatment takes between 10 and 30 days.
According to Kakembo, the main challenge of dealing with sleeping sickness is that cases are not reported. Record-keeping is unstable and, as a result, the disease continues to spread to other districts.
â€œSleeping sickness has spread beyond the traditional areas of Busoga, reaching as far as Kampala and Arua,â€ Kakembo said. In addition, the cost of treatment is high, with each patient requiring $300 (sh490,000).
Kakembo appealed for improved commitment from the health ministry and local government health departments to control the disease.
â€œThere is urgent need to sensitise the people in the tsetsefly-infested areas and for local governments to give it priority in order to save the over 10 million people who are at risk,â€ he said.
Lawrence Semakula of the Coordinating Office for Control of Trypanosomiasis in Uganda said tsetse flies are estimated to be present in about 70% of the land surface area in Uganda.
Semakula said the situation would be addressed through aerial spraying of infested areas.