David Oguttu, the programme Manager for the National Onchocerciasis Elimination programme says enrolling the refugees in mass treatment will help Uganda achieve its policy of eliminating Onchocerciasis.
The Ministry of Health has kicked off mass administration of drugs
for river blindness disease among South Sudan refugees in Northern Uganda.
The exercise, the first of its kind comes nearly two years after the Health
Ministry rolled out plans to conduct mass treatment of river blindness in
refugee settlements to eliminate threats of river blindness in the
It followed recommendations from stakeholders during an August 2018 meeting of
the Uganda Onchocerciasis elimination expert Advisory committee convened by the
Health Ministry that called for the inclusion of refugees in mass treatment in
a bid to eliminate cross-border Transmission of river blindness.
Launched on Thursday in Palabek Refugee Settlement in Lamwo District, the mass
treatment exercise targets some 40,000 refugees above five years out of the
total 58,000 population of South Sudan refugees in Lamwo District.
David Oguttu, the Programme Manager for the National Onchocerciasis Elimination
programme says enrolling the refugees in mass treatment will help Uganda
achieve its policy of eliminating Onchocerciasis.
He notes that whereas the host communities were undergoing treatment, the
refugees who come from communities highly endemic to Onchocerciasis were not,
and thus jeopardizing the Onchocerciasis elimination policy.
In 2007, the Ministry of Health launched a river blindness elimination policy
aimed at eliminating the disease in the country by 2020.
Although the country hasn’t achieved its target, Oguttu further exclusion of
the refugees from treatment would make it practically impossible to eliminate
//cue in: “we are launching…
Cue out:…refugees under treatment.”//
Oguttu says a total of 50,000 doses of Ivermectin drugs donated from the World
Health Organization-WHO through, the Mectizan Donation Program has been
dispatched by the Health Ministry Palabek Refugee settlement for the exercise.
He notes that the Health Ministry, the Office of the Prime
Minister-OPM and humanitarian agency UNHCR along with other partners in the
refugee settlement have conducted advocacy and training of health officials in
the implementation of the exercise.
Axel Okurut, the Assistant Settlement Commandant at Palabek Refugee Settlement
lauded the move taken by the government in ensuring the refugees are treated
against river blindness. Okurut says the move will boost up the government’s
commitment to eliminating onchocerciasis both within the host and the refugee
John Paskwali, the Chairperson of Palabek Refugee settlement lauded the Health
Ministry for considering refugees in mass treatment for river blindness.
He however encouraged the refugee communities to embrace the mass treatment
citing the drugs are safe.
//cue in: “I want to…
Cue out:..process of treatment.”//
River blindness also known as Onchocerciasis is a neglected tropical disease
caused by Onchocerca volvulus, a parasitic worm spread by bites from infected
black flies that breed in fast-flowing rivers and streams.
Once a person has been bitten by a blackfly infected with Onchocerca volvulus,
symptoms may take between one to two years before manifesting. The
symptoms include severe itching of the skin, changes in skin pigmentation,
bumps under the skin, itching of the eyes, loss of skin elasticity, visual
impairment, including permanent blindness.
In Northern Uganda, the transmission zone for Onchocerciasis is Lamwo, Kitgum,
Pader, Moyo, Adjumani, Amuru, Gulu, Oyam, Nwoya, Omoro, and Lira.
Uganda has registered strides in combatting river blindness since
2007 when it launched a nationwide transmission elimination policy based
on twice-per-year treatment and vector control/elimination.
But Health Experts says the resurgence of blackflies in endemic
areas especially in Northern Uganda hosting a greater number of South Sudan
refugees who aren't receiving treatment could water down the achievements.
Recently, the communities in Pader and Lamwo District residing along Aswa River
raised complaints of an upsurge in the population of blackflies, sparking fears
of nodding syndrome and river blindness outbreaks.
Dr Alfred Mubangizi, the assistant commissioner for vector-borne and neglected
tropical disease at the Health Ministry on Friday says that mass administration
of drugs to both host and refugees will yield impacts in eliminating river
Dr Mubangizi also noted that the government has employed locals along with
areas where fresh breeding of blackflies is taking place to conduct slashing
and clearing of bushes to destroy the natural habitat of the flies. The
practice replaces the use of Abate (a chemical) sprayed in rivers and
streams to kill the black flies.
Uganda currently hosts 933,089 refugees from South Sudan as of September 30
Office of the Prime Minister data.