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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs