News / Africa

Uganda's Poorest Communities Tackling Diseases

Primary school children line up for trachoma medicine in Buniantole, eastern Uganda, September 12, 2012. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
Primary school children line up for trachoma medicine in Buniantole, eastern Uganda, September 12, 2012. (Hilary Heuler/VOA)
In Uganda, the government has come up with a new plan to tackle a range of tropical diseases that have been neglected for years.  These diseases afflict the poorest and most marginalized communities in the country.

Aggrey Wambi was only nine years old when his legs began to ache and swell.  Now, two decades later, his calves are twice the size they should be.

Wambi, who lives in a village near Iganga, in eastern Uganda, says his stretched skin itches, and the pain is intense.  He has trouble holding down normal jobs, he says, and has to settle for plowing other people's gardens in order to feed his two children.

Wambi is suffering from lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis.  It is one of the ailments known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Elizabeth Kurylo, of the International Trachoma Initiative, says that diseases like these can have a profound effect not just on the individual, but on the entire community.

"The whole community is affected because many of these diseases make it difficult for people to do their daily tasks, and this incudes whatever jobs they might have outside the home," said Kurylo.

The Ugandan government is preparing to roll out a new master plan designed to tackle the most common of these NTDs - including elephantiasis, sleeping sickness, bilharzia and plague.  According to Kurylo, Uganda is only the second country in Africa to draft such a plan.

Gabriel Matwale of the Ministry of Health says the focus will be on both prevention and treatment of these diseases.

"We are scaling up by covering endemic communities with mass drug administration, that is, giving them drugs," said Matwale.  "We have a component of improved hygiene and sanitation."

But with most NTDs occurring in hard-to-reach rural communities, Matwale says, it is important to build networks of volunteers who can access even the most isolated villages.

"We need to strengthen what we call village health teams, the lowest level where health care can be got," Matwale added.  "So if we strengthen the village health team level, we would be able to reach the most marginalized communities."

One of the diseases being targeted is trachoma, a crippling eye infection that can eventually lead to blindness.  In some districts in Uganda, over half the population contracts the disease at some point in their lives.

Here in Buniantole, another village in Iganga, a village health team is giving trachoma medication to around 300 children at a local primary school.  The medicine is preventative.  But the disease is highly contagious, and can spread quickly through schools.

Around four percent of Iganga residents suffer from late-stage trachoma, which requires surgery to cure.  The leader of the health team, Mohamad Kibira, explains that in the past, an isolated area like this did not have access to medicine or treatment.

"The problem we have here is that we had no medication around," Kibira explained.  "Like these guys here, they always go far for the medication.  We don't have a clinic nearby.  They don't go for treatment earlier because lack of transport, because they are moving from far areas to the facility."

School headmaster Abdallah Bogere says another problem is poor hygiene. 

"People are not very much enlightened about washing their faces every morning," Bogere explained.  "What we do here, even at school, is learn to wash their faces every now and then.  I have a basin already here, I have soap, so when I see children have come to school with unwashed faces, we try to make them wash."

Kurylo agrees that with many NTDs, hygiene plays a major factor, along with a lack of access to clean water.  This, she says, is one of the reasons why these diseases are such a problem in poorer countries like Uganda, and why marginalized communities suffer the most.

"Trachoma used to be prevalent in the United States, and as sanitation and hygiene improved, it disappeared," said Kurylo.  "When you have a dry, arid, dusty climate where there is limited access to good water, and limited access to safe hygiene, those conditions allow these diseases to thrive."

As diseases of the poor, Kurylo says, NTDs have been neglected by the international community for years.  But, she adds, they are neither difficult nor expensive to treat, and she hopes that the government's new plan will help eradicate them forever.

"We have the tools. We know-how to eliminate these diseases," added Kurylo.  "Most of the medicines for neglected tropical diseases are donated by the pharmaceutical companies.  So really, the costs involve getting the medicine from the central medical stores in each country out to the rural communities that need them.  I think the cost of not treating these diseases is much higher than the cost of taking care of this now."

Uganda's NTD master plan is still in draft form, and the money has yet to be raised.  The total cost of implementation is estimated to be around $60 million.

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs