River Blindness a Public Health Problem in Northern Uganda – MOH

The Health Ministry and Carter center have embarked on emergency measures to combat river blindness in post conflict districts in Northern Uganda. According to the minister River Blindness still constitutes a public health problem in the post conflict districts. The disease also known as Onchocerciasis is still prevalent in 35 districts in Uganda.

River Blindness is transmitted through the bite of a black fly. The black fly breeds in areas around fast flowing Rivers placing 3.5 million people at risk. Sarah Opendi, the state Minister for primary health care says this is coupled with the fact that it is closely associated with the presence of the Nodding syndrome.

She explains that it is for this reason that the ministry has teamed up with the Carter Center to embark on emergency measures to combat river blindness concurrently with the nodding disease.

Onchocerciasis causes severe itching with rashes, skin depigmentation; visual impairment and can lead to permanent blindness. Its symptoms include eye and skin lesions if the microfilariae migrate to the eye and upper layers of the skin. Opendi says transmission of the disease has been interrupted in six out of the 18 concentration areas in the country. These include, Wadelai Focus in Nebbi district, Mt Elgon Focus in Mbale, Sironko, Bududa and Manafa districts and Itwara Focus in Kabarole and Kyenjojo districts.

Others are Mpamba-Nkusi focus in Kibale Maracha-Terego district and Imaramagambo focus in Mitooma and Bushenyi districts. To support the elimination approach, the Minister adds that a molecular laboratory that offers highly sensitive diagnosis of river blindness was established at the vector control division.

These include tests on DNA or polymerase chain reaction and river blindness tests on 46,000 blood spot samples. The affected areas are neighbours to Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo which makes them even more prone. Dr Dennis Lwamafa, the acting Director Clinical Health Services says they are training officials from DRC especially in areas along the Rwenzori border, adding that they are in the process of identifying officials in South Sudan to work with in the elimination of river blindness and polio.

He says that with the interruption of the disease in the six foci areas, over 1.2 million people are now protected from infection. More than 100 million people worldwide are at risk of contracting river blindness and 99 percent of the cases are found in Africa. A phased approach is being implemented with the goal of interrupting transmission of the old age scourge in Uganda by 2020.

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