Measles epidemic killing a patient a day in Uganda
By ESTHER NAKKAZI
Posted Saturday, May 26 2012 at 13:09
For the past eight years, there has been little activity in the measles ward at the Stanfield 1A Building, the paediatric wing of Uganda’s Mulago Referral Hospital.
In fact, for the better half of this period, it was closed because there were hardly any measles patients. Today, at least one patient dies daily at the measles ward as the country struggles to contain an epidemic that started last October.
Admissions to the measles ward soared to a record 183, 206 and 363 cases in the months of February, March and April respectively this year, and the severity of the cases has increased.
Deaths statistics have increased at the ward from an average 0.8 to 1.8 per cent to 2.4 to 3.4 per-cent mortality per month since the beginning of the year.
Measles, a preventable disease which was almost wiped out in Uganda by 2009, with a 95 per cent reduction in reported cases, is back, thanks to the porous borders with South Sudan and the DR Congo.
Dr Sabrina Bakeera-Kitaka a paediatrician at Mulago Hospital says the disease has made a come back because parents don’t take children for immunisation, in spite of the fact that measles is a cyclic disease that rebounds after lapses. “There was a general state of laxity by all the players.”
After la ong spell of containing measles in communities, parents and health workers prioritised other diseases.
According to Caroline Namukwaya, the sister-in-charge at the paediatric ward, most of the patients come in very sick with measles and malnutrition. She blames cultural practices for fuelling the disease as parents deny children proteins in their diets in the belief that they will feel better.
Culturally, among some Ugandan communities, children suffering from measles are denied meat and milk in their diet and instead fed on saltless fish and ripe bananas mixed with ghee, but this only increases their malnourishment in a state of suppressed immunity.
“When a child gets measles they need all the proteins to keep them healthy. Measles is severe and fatal and patients need all the nutrients they can get and should be under the care of a doctor,” said Dr Bakeera-Kitaka.
Measles presents as an acute viral respiratory disease that affects the largest organ of the body, the skin, and all other organs. It also presents itself — especially in children — with high fever, rashes and vomiting.
The Ministry of Health in Uganda says there are 3,600 confirmed measles cases and plans are underway to respond through a mass measles immunisation campaign starting this week.