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DRC-Uganda: Meningitis outbreak under control, says health ministry

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NAIROBI, 25 February (IRIN) - A meningitis epidemic which broke out late 2002 in Nebbi District, western Uganda, is now under control, according to the Ugandan health ministry.
"The sick are receiving appropriate treatment, and the population at risk has been vaccinated," the ministry reported in an update made available to IRIN on Tuesday.

Nebbi had recorded 35 deaths and 290 cases since the disease broke out, the report said. Among the most affected areas are Okoro and Padyere sub-counties. Nebbi, with an estimated population of 430,000, hosts thousands of refugees who have fled fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The ministry said a team sent to investigate the epidemic on 26 January found that meningitis was on the increase in the district. A central coordination team, comprising government health officials, the World Health Organisation and Medicins Sans Frontieres-Switzerland among other NGOs, was later established "to plan outbreak response activities".

According to the ministry, coordination meetings in the district are continuing, as well as social mobilisation on preventive methods and care. Health officials are also involved in continuous surveillance, monitoring and reporting of all suspected cases. Neighbouring districts had been alerted to strengthen their surveillance and report all suspected cases, the ministry's report said.

The New Vision government-owned newspaper on Monday quoted the resident district commissioner, Peter Odok w'Ochieng, as saying there were 70,000 Congolese refugees in Nebbi, and that cholera and meningitis were suspected to have been brought to Nebbi by them.

The newspaper said an outbreak of cholera had killed 17 people in the district in January, most of them Congolese refugees.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of the Red Cross Uganda reported on Monday that a refugee crisis was looming in western Uganda as thousands of Congolese escaping an upsurge in inter-ethnic fighting in their country continued to pour over the border. It said most of those fleeing into Nebbi were women and children.

"Thus far, however, they have refused to be settled in camps designated by the Ugandan government and the UNHCR [Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] in the neighbouring district of Arua, insisting instead on settling among the host community," the Federation reported.

The Federation has launched an emergency appeal for 357,000 Swiss francs (US $261,000) to help the Uganda Red Cross Society provide aid to 15,000 Congolese refugees for the next three months.

[ENDS]

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