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Hepatitis E spreads, IDPs most vulnerable

Health official attends to a child suspected to be infected with Hepatitis E at a health centre in Kitgum. 12 October 2008.
A medical officer attends to a child suspected to be infected with Hepatitis E at a health centre in Kitgum (Charles Akena/IRIN)

Hepatitis E is on the increase in Uganda's northern district of Pader, where it has claimed scores of lives and infected thousands in the past year, officials said.

Since May, there have been 55 new infections and seven deaths in Pader, according to Angelo Luganya, a health official in Pader.

"More cases are being received in health units in villages and there is need for urgent attention to check on the disease that is on the rise," he told IRIN.

Since 2007, the viral disease has infected up to 8,000 people in neighbouring Kitgum district alone, and killed 129. The disease has since spread to the districts of Pader, Gulu, Adjumani and Amuru.

Hepatitis E is transmitted mainly by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food.

Charles Kurua, the Pader deputy commissioner, said the majority of those infected in the district were internally displaced persons (IDPs).

"There is need for intervention by local government and health partners to curb the spread of the disease," said Kurua, who is also a member of the hepatitis E taskforce in the district, adding that the number of those being infected was rising daily.

Poor sanitation has contributed to the spread of the disease, with some IDPs lacking pit latrines and others drinking unsafe water from unprotected sources, leaving them prone to infection, Kurua said.

"Our people are living under unhygienic conditions in IDP camps and areas of return in villages that leave them more vulnerable to diseases such as hepatitis E and cholera," he said. "If they [IDPs] keep on staying in the camps, more would die from the diseases."

The infected were being treated at Kalongo, the main hospital in the district, as well as in health centres in Pader, Acholi Bur, Pajule and Patongo areas.


''Our people are living under unhygienic conditions in IDP camps and areas of return in villages that leave them more vulnerable to diseases such as hepatitis E and cholera''

Kurua said the taskforce was being frustrated by a lack of adequate resources, making it hard for its members reach all the communities living in Pader.

He said efforts were underway to drill boreholes in all resettlement areas to avoid outbreaks of sanitation-related diseases.

Alfred Akena, a local leader in Pader, said the situation was worrying because most of the villages IDPs are returning to do not have adequate functional health centres.

"A number of parishes have not been able to get health centres within their reach due to a collaboration gap between the parish development committees and the district, this is dangerous when we get outbreak of diseases," he said.

Moreover, Akena said, people in the neighbouring district of Kotido also risk infection of hepatitis E following an influx of Karimojong people looking for food and water.

At least 346 Karimojong women and children have crossed into Pader district and settled in the sub-counties of Adilang, Lapono, Paimol, Kalongo and Parabongo, adjacent to Abim and Kotido districts.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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