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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora