Monday November 12 2012

Disease response still inadequate

Reports that a one-and-half-year old boy has died of Marburg virus once again brings to focus the need for sustained awareness and more vigilance. The latest victim, who died at Ruhoko Hospital in Ibanda District on Wednesday, brings the total death toll due to Marburg virus to nine since the outbreak was officially announced last month.

Though the outbreak was first confirmed in the western district of Kabale, disturbing reports indicate that it has so far spread to three other districts in western Uganda. The latest victim, only identified as Alexander, is the second person from Ibanda District to have died from Marburg virus having lost his mother to the same disease.

It is worrying that more people are still dying a month after the disease was reported. Despite assurances from the Health ministry that the disease is under control, there are loopholes that require urgent attention. Admittedly, the health authorities are doing what is within their power to contain further spread and educate the population.

However, there is need to increase surveillance and continually remind communities to be vigilant. Given our past experiences with Marburg and Ebola outbreaks, we ought to take precautionary measures more seriously. This may be challenging in rural areas but it is important to have a comprehensive strategy to contain and prevent similar outbreaks through sustained awareness as well as quick responses.

However, given the sluggish and negligible manner in which the nodding disease in northern Uganda was, for instance, handled, Ugandans must demand better health service delivery, more so in emergency situations such as Ebola and Marburg outbreaks and special cases such as the nodding disease syndrome.

Also, given the nature of rural communities where people rarely seek treatment partly due to lack of easy access to health facilities and ignorance, it is possible that outbreaks may come to the attention of health authorities late, making it extremely difficult to trace people who may have come into contact with affected people, yet Marburg is highly fatal.

Going forward, it is crucial to have in place functional integrated disease surveillance across the country. This will strengthen our response to outbreaks and, most importantly, build vital resources and information on various diseases, preventive measures and possible treatment.