Meningitis Confirmed in Arua District

By Frank Mugabi and Irene Nabusoba

New Vision (Kampala)
16 January 2008

THE Ministry of Health has confirmed 121 cases of meningitis in Arua and Nebbi districts, up from 43 when the outbreak was first suspected. Of these, three deaths have been reported.

"We have confirmed that it is meningitis and the outbreak is two weeks old. It is a new epidemic in Arua district and a few sub-counties in Nebbi, bordering Arua," Dr. Sam Okware, the commissioner for community health, told The New Vision on Tuesday.

"Cases are doubling every week and that creates a worrying scenario that calls for an emergency response."

He said laboratory tests confirmed that it was the type A strain, adding that seven of the affected sub-counties qualified to be called emergency areas.

According to the World Health Organisation, there must be five confirmed cases of every 100,000 people for a disease to be called an epidemic.

In Arua, the most affected sub-counties are Ajia, Arivu, Logiri, Vurra, Okollo, Offaka, Rigbo and Rhino camp.

The Arua district director of health services, Dr. Patrick Anguzu, said 371 cases of meningitis had been registered since July last year, with at least 41 deaths.

He said health centres in the affected areas neither have oily chloramphenical nor expen, the drugs used in the treatment of meningococcal meningitis.

Anguzu added that the health units lacked intravenous fluids needed to stabilise meningitis patients.

However, Okware revealed that the ministry has 25,600 doses of drugs to treat meningitis and already 12,000 have been sent to the affected areas.

"We have got enough stock of drugs to handle over 2,000 patients, as we continue to source for more," he said.

On the vaccination, Okware said there were 226,000 doses meant for people aged below 30, clarifying that those above that age should have developed adequate immunity against the disease.

Kuluva Hospital, Okware said, was the main treatment centre but two others would be opened at Bondo and Ajai health centres in Arua.

He urged the public to avoid overcrowding, observe hygiene, desist from moving unnecessarily and report suspected cases early.

The confirmation of meningitis in the area comes after a recent warning by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that Uganda was among 13 countries lying under Africa's meningitis belt that stretches from Ethiopia to Senegal.

The world agency warned that the belt could suffer one of the worst meningitis epidemics early this year.

Districts being watched are Kotido, Moroto, Kitgum, Pader, Gulu Adjumani, Yumbe, Arua, and Nebbi, all characterised with semi-arid conditions.

Masindi district is also being monitored.