President Yoweri Museveni has called on the medical personnel to concertedly use the many FM radio stations in the country to sensitize wananchi on health issues in general and in particular the so-called “nodding” (River Blindness) disease that has infected over one thousand people in the Acholi Sub-Region in Northern Uganda.
The President made the call yesterday while launching the mass drug administration programme against River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) in the Acholi Sub-Region and other neglected diseases. The exercise took place at Angangura Primary School in Pader district where he also launched the National Mass Immunization against measles, polio as well as for child health days.
River blindness is variously referred to as a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) that is caused by the parasitic worm Onchocerca Volvulus. It is transmitted through repeated bites by the black flies of the genus Simulium. The disease is called River Blindness because the black fly that is responsible for its transmission, lives and breeds near fast-flowing streams and rivers and the infection can result in blindness.
According to medical experts, onchocercisias causes skin disease including nodules under the skin or debilitating itching on top of causing visual impairment or blindness.
Worldwide, onchocersiasis is second only to trachoma as an infectious cause of blindeness. River blindness is present in 36 countries of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Americas. Out of some 120 million people at risk, 96% are in Africa. And of the 36 countries where the disease is endemic, 30 are in Sub-Sahara Africa plus Yemen and 6 are in the Americas.
Mr. Museveni told the gathering that the scientists and medical doctors have confirmed that there was a likely association between the “nodding” disease and river blindness. He said that if the medical officials had eliminated River Blindness the nodding disease would not occur. He, therefore, urged the people to co-operate and asked the leaders to endeavour and educate all the people on all issues relating to their health.
He noted that the “nodding” disease is easy to eliminate through taking two doses of the recommended drug per year. He emphasized that if there are no river blindness worms in our bodies the fly that causes it will not transfer any parasites. He stressed that in order to solve the problem, there must be mass treatment to kill all the worms which cause infection.
Mr. Museveni announced that Government will spray and kill the flies, particularly around the breeding areas near rivers. He was optimistic that the affected children would recover. He also expressed happiness to note that the people of Pader district had formed an Association of LC1 to which he pledged a donation of Shs. 10 million to assist it in handling local common developmental issues.
The Minister of Health, Hon. Christine Ondoa, saluted the President for supporting the mass treatment programme. She reported that river blindness had long been eradicated in Nebbi district in the West Nile Sub-Region adding that she was optimistic that the ailment will also be eliminated from the Acholi Sub-Region. She said that all the families in the Acholi area that are affected by the “nodding” disease have been given food aid by the Government.
Speaking at the same occasion, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Uganda, Dr. Joaquim Saweka noted that President’s presence in Pader district was a clear demonstration of his political commitment to the elimination of the ailment. He revealed that about 90% of the people affected by the “nodding” disease live in river blindness infested areas. He was optimistic that with the massive river blindness vaccinations now in place the nodding disease syndrome will be eliminated.
He congratulated Uganda, under the NRM Government, for reducing the maternal mortality rate from 600 people per 100,000 in 1990 to 310 per 100,000 in 2011.
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