Cholera, an acute infectious disease, is not new to the east African country of Uganda. For 47 years, epidemics of cholera have occurred frequently in the country, and cases of the disease in Ugandan communities are still reported annually. Uganda’s recent cholera outbreak was reported Feb. 22, 2018.
The announcement came after 668 cholera cases had been identified in the refugee settlements in Hoima District. Hoima District is a Western Ugandan district home to thousands of Congolese refugees escaping ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern Ituri province.
More than 4.4 million people have been forced out of their homes in Democratic Republic of Congo amid a surge in severe violence. The aggression stemmed from President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in 2016. As a result of the humanitarian disaster, it is estimated that about 43,000 Congolese refugees have settled into Ugandan areas this year. This brings the total of Congolese refugees in Uganda to more than a quarter of a million.
Although Uganda welcomes all those fleeing violence and seeking refuge into the country, government-funded health facilities have been overwhelmed by the sharp rise in the refugee population. Since the initial outbreak announcement in February, at least 1,747 people have become sick and at least 36 have died from the worsening situation. Most of the deaths were recent evacuees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In addition to plaguing the refugee resettlements in Hoima District, Uganda’s recent cholera outbreak has also now spread to two additional sub-counties. It is estimated that drinking unsafe water from Lake Albert, poor sanitation and a lack of handwashing facilities in the area have contributed to the dehydration, diarrhea, vomiting and fatality rates.
Uganda’s recent cholera outbreak has proven an urgent demand for additional resources and funds to prevent the spread and deaths from the bacterial disease. However, some response efforts and services are currently in place. Thanks to a fast-acting response plan by the U.N. Refugee Agency and The Ministry of Health, health actors and community leaders are working to provide medical supplies, health personnel and other essential support. This includes demonstrations on proper food and hand hygiene and water safety to reduce transmission of the illness. Many technical teams are working to conduct medical screenings, provide treatments and produce water purification tablets near Western Uganda’s Lake Albert and Kyangwali refugee settlement.
Additionally, international agencies like the World Health Organization and UNICEF have provided two different cholera kits with vital supplies for cholera case management. Uganda Red Cross Society has actively supported social mobilization to prevent and regulate the outbreak.
Because of these life-saving efforts enforced by health workers and technical teams, there has been a significant decrease in the number of new cholera cases within the western Lake Albert region. As of Feb. 28, health care workers were detecting approximately 100 new cases of cholera a day. By March 12, the daily case number had decreased to 20. The medical assistance provided helped decrease the mortality rate by two percent. However, Uganda’s recent cholera outbreak is not over and the work in cholera-suffering hotspots is far from resolved.
– Natalie Shaw