Cholera outbreak in Uganda district kills six people

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While the Health Ministry claims the situation has been contained to just one district, officials on the ground fear the worst may yet to come

By Halima Athumani

KAMPALA, Uganda – A cholera outbreak in Uganda’s southwestern district of Hoima has so far claimed the lives of six people and left 130 others hospitalized, a senior Ugandan Health Ministry official has confirmed.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Dr. Asuman Lukwago, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, said that the deaths were a result of El Niño rains.

In September, the Uganda National Meteorological Authority and the World Meteorological Organization reported that El Niño was expected to cause flooding, extensive erosion and mudslides with loss of lives, destruction of homes and food supplies at varying levels in some districts.

The report had warned that Uganda and other East African countries would experience an El Niño effect from late Oct. 2015 to Feb. 2016.

The Ministry of Health said that 33 out of 112 districts in the country were currently at risk. “The incidence of infectious and non-communicable diseases such as malaria, cholera, asthma, typhoid, bilharzia, dysentery and acute respiratory infections will rise to outbreak levels,” Lukwago warned. “Some health facilities are likely to be damaged and many pit-latrines will be flooded in the affected districts,” he said.

Also, more than 100,000 people in 12,500 households are at a risk of landslides in the Mt. Elgon and Rwenzori sub-regions, he added.

Painting a grim picture of the situation in Hoima district, Fred Kugonza, district health surveillance officer, told Anadolu Agency on Friday that the outbreak began in one landing site and later spread to two others on the shores of Lake Albert.

According to Kugonza, before the rains started, many people were not using pits as latrines. “Instead they go to galleys and trenches, and now with the heavy rains, the fecal matter is getting pushed into the lake, which is the same water they drink,” he said.

At the Nkondo landing site where the outbreak began, Kugonza lamented that the biggest challenge they faced was the lack of safe water. “They only have one borehole which is six kilometers from where the outbreak took place; you can’t tell someone to leave the lake and walk that distance for water,” he said.

About the Kaiso landing site, he said: “They have only one borehole and the latrine coverage is less than 20 percent and people keep moving from one place to another.”

“This week we had to shut down the market because it had no latrine, it will only be opened once they build a latrine,” he added.

While the Health Ministry claims the situation has been contained to just one district, officials on the ground fear the worst may yet to come in the near future.

With one new case reported Thursday, Kugonza said: “I think we may get another bout of an outbreak in December, especially in Kyangwali, the situation is terrible.”

Kyangwali is home to over 20,000 refugees from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya.

With support from United Nations Children’s Fund, Kugonza said that he had the support of four nurses and nursing assistants that were moving door-to-door and providing awareness to residents about the importance of handwashing and hygiene in the area.

“We also are forcing them to improve their latrine conditions and those that don’t have, we have asked the army to come and forcefully supervise digging of the latrines [since] they don’t fear the police anymore,” he said.

He urged the general public to observe good general hygiene and sanitation around homes and schools. “Boil all drinking water as water sources are likely to be affected,” he said.

In March 2010, Uganda suffered one of its worst effects of El Niño rains when 150 people were buried in eastern Uganda in a mudslide. In 2006, villages were flooded in the east and northern parts of the country.

The government estimates that up to 20,000 people are likely to be displaced between November 2015 and February 2016. 

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