Uganda on Target to Eliminate River Blindness Top story


In short
This represents an almost 75 percent increase from 2.7 million Ugandans who were safe from river blindness infection last year.

At least 4 million Ugandans are no longer at risk of contracting river blindness, Dr. Edridah Muheki Tukahebwa, the Assistant Commissioner Health Services for Vector Control Division has revealed.

This represents an almost 75 percent increase from 2.7 million Ugandans who were safe from river blindness infection last year.

Dr. Muheki disclosed this at the 8th session of the Uganda Onchocerciasis Elimination Expert Advisory Committee (UOEEAC) in Kampala today. She attributed Uganda's success to a combined approach that employs the use of village health teams, a robust surveillance network and involvement of the district officials in the affected areas.

She said people in 36 districts have been treated of the disease and transmission interrupted at least in 16 districts. Dr. Muheki said Uganda was on course to meet its target of eliminating river blindness and other neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma, elephantiasis and bilharzia by 2020.

Prevalence of river blindness in Uganda has dropped from 70% in 1993 to less than 5% presently. In 2007, Uganda was the first African country to adopt the approach of eliminating the disease by combining mass treatment of patients and spraying to kill the black fly.

Dr. Muheki however, says transmission of river blindness is still prevalent in Arua, Nebbi, Kisoro, Lamwo, Kanungu, Kitgum, Gulu and Kasese districts.

//Cue in: The committee...//

Cue out...towards elimination.//

According to Dr. Muheki at least 5,400 people are blind or visually impaired due to river blindness in Kitgum, Lamwo and Pader districts where another strain of river blindness is prevalent. 

//Cue in: River blindness...//

Cue out...western region.//

In the early 1990s, The Carter Center founded by former US President Jimmy Carter, along with other partners helped Uganda to start river blindness control using the ivermectin drug. 

Ivermectin is administered orally and kills the larvae of parasites in the human body to prevent blindness and transmission of the disease to others.

The approach helped to reduce prevalence of the disease in communities from 70% in 1993 to less than 5% presently. River blindness which is known scientifically as onchocerciasis is a parasitic infection that can cause intense itching, skin discoloration, rashes, and eye disease that can lead to permanent blindness.

It is transmitted through bites of female black flies that breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers, hence the commonly known name of 'river blindness'.

The disease causes severe itching and painful nodules around the hip and rib cage, and eye lesions which can lead to impaired vision and blindness. It also causes ugly skin disease looking like leopard skin.

Globally, Onchocersiasis is present in 36 countries in Africa, the Arab peninsula and the America. Out of some 120 million people at risk, 96% are in Africa. Of the 36 countries where the disease is endemic, 30 are in Sub-Sahara Africa.



About the author

Beatrice Nyangoma
Beatrice Nyangoma values her independence as a journalist. This was one of her major considerations before she became a URN staffer in 2015.

Nyangoma says, "I like URN because it gives me room to decide what stories I want to work on. That is so important to me."

The URN Jinja bureau chief since July 2016, Nyangoma considers health matters a beat close to her heart. One of the highlights of her career so far were her exclusive interviews unveiling the rot in Mulago hospital in early 2016.

Nyangoma started out writing for the Red Pepper newspaper in 2011 in her final year of university. She was majorly a health reporter. In 2012, Nyangoma moved to Top Television as a health, business reporter and weekend news editor. She was also the assistant editorial manager of Kabarole Research and Resource Centre FM (KRC FM).