By Arthur Baguma and
PARENTS are worried. The public is apprehensive. Human movement is almost non-existent in the vicinity of the affected schools. Fear has gripped Bushenyi and neighbouring districts, following reports of a swine flu outbreak in schools.
Mass gatherings have been suspended in the district. But the school authorities have cautiously trod the line of denial even when cases of swine flu in their schools have been confirmed by health experts.
Swine flu is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by one of the many Influenza A viruses.
Barely two weeks after students had reported back to school, the outbreak leaves the schoolsâ€™ third term calendar in balance.
According to education analysts, this could affect the studentsâ€™ performance. Norman Lukum, the district education officer Bushenyi, says the epidemic has mostly affected the candidate classes. He notes that the candidate classes were supposed to hold seminars with other schools but all the exercises were suspended. He says even teachers have been unable to concentrate on teaching.
â€œWe shall try to counsel the students and teachers. They are psychologically affected and this affects the teaching process,â€ Lukum says.
Bushenyi district Woman MP Mary Karooro Okurut says the issue should be handled with utmost urgency. She has petitioned the Ministry of Health to release an emergency fund for the district to handle the situation. Karooro advises that the campaigns on radio should be intensified, adding that the district cannot handle the situation without the ministryâ€™s support.
The education minister Namirembe Bitamazire, says the situation is under control. â€œThose affected are being treated. The situation is under control. Guidelines and instructions on how to respond when students get a disease they donâ€™t understand have been given to all schools,â€ Bitamazire explains.
She says the ministries of health and education are working closely to contain the problem.
However, there is contradiction between the affected schoolsâ€™ authorities and the Ministry of Health. Administrators of affected schools are denying the presence of the disease. This has raised mixed feelings among the public who remain undecided on whose word to take.
Nobody knows clearly the number of affected students and whether they have recovered or not. The ministry has been talking of about 10 patients at Kitabi but according to sources, the numbers are more.
District director for health services, Dr Celestine Barigye says people telling the public that there is no swine flu should stop. â€œAs far as I am concerned, I want to disassociate myself from that talk, people should know that there is swine flu.â€
The neighbouring districts of Mbarara, Rukungiri, Ibanda, Ntungamo, Kasese, Isingiro and Kiruhura have since been put on alert.
John Tereraho, the education officer Rukungiri, has given a directive to all head teachers to treat any signs of flu among students as an emergency. The health ministry has also asked the schools not to send children home when they develop any signs of the disease, but isolate them within the school.
Swine flu cases were first reported at Kitabi Seminary in Bumbeire sub-county, Bushenyi district before it spread out to Bishop Ogez High School in Nyabubare sub-county.
Many times, swine flu it goes unnoticed or could be mistaken for a common cold. The symptoms are similar to typical human seasonal flu, and other upper respiratory tract infections.
Detection of swine flu in humans often does not happen. If symptoms are mild, it is extremely unlikely that any connection to swine influenza is found â€” even if it is there. Unless the doctors and experts are specifically looking for swine flu, it is rarely detected.
According to a reliable source, when it first broke out at Kitabi, the school administration failed to detect it in time, thinking it was ordinary flu. Students who asked for permission to go for treatment were thought to be tricksters looking for an excuse to go home.
After a few days, the school decided to send some of the students who were badly off home for treatment. It is because of this that some people think that the virus could already be out there in the communities, only waiting to explode.
When the Ministry of Health confirmed that it was swine flu, the pupils who were sent home, were followed up by health officials, brought back to school and confined. It is alleged that the delay in detecting the disease is the reason the epidemic spread beyond the school.
The origin of the disease is a mystery. Several people think it was visitors, especially priests who occasionally visit the catholic schools secretly, while other sources say the Kitabi students visited a certain school in Kampala and returned ill.
But the district authorities and the health ministry say they will not point fingers. â€œWe are trying to establish what could have led to the outbreak at the seminary,â€ says minister for health Dr Stephen Mallinga. He was addressing district leaders and journalists on Friday last week at Crane Hotel in Ishaka town.
Mallinga cautioned the school administrators to take precautionary measures against swine flu seriously. He says the affected schools should confine the students within the schools until the danger is over. However, he was quick to add that the current swine flu in the country is manageable. He says the ministry will, this week, release an emergency fund to Bushenyi district to fight the spread of swine flu.
The disease was first reported in Mexico in April before it spread to the US and other countries. The World Health Organisation declared the virus an epidemic and there are fears that it could mutate and become more lethal.
The disease has also been confirmed in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Mauritius and Algeria.
The first patient in Uganda was recorded in July. In all incidents, all cases have been treated.
Is there a pandemic risk?
If the virus infects enough people in a given area, the risk of a pandemic is significantly greater. Experts say it is hard to predict what impact a flu pandemic would have on the global human population. This would depend on how virulent the virus is, what existing immunity among humans there already is, plus several other factors.
What can schools do?
There are a number of simple steps that parents, teachers and students can take to slow the spread of swine flu:
Signs and symptoms
avoid infecting others