PRESS RELEASE: Long-Term Approach Needed to Combat Hepatitis E in Northern Uganda
Shaun O’Donnell, the IRC’s country director in Uganda, explains: “Hepatitis E is a virus that’s often transmitted through contaminated water or food. In Kitgum, we have a situation where thousands of displaced people are returning to villages that lack sufficient sanitation, clean drinking water, and basic healthcare services. Under these circumstances, it’s hard for people to maintain good hygiene and prevent problems like Hepatitis E."
O’Donnell adds: “The IRC, with its partners, has implemented strong emergency measures to tackle the outbreak in the short-term. We’re improving access to water and sanitation, as well as educating communities on good hygiene practices. What’s needed now is comprehensive, long-term programming – projects that focus on combating the underlying causes of the outbreak, causes that include poor sanitation and a continued lack of health awareness among communities.”
The IRC believes that there is a clear need for long-term funding aimed at improving essential services and educating communities on good hygiene. The IRC is obviously very grateful for the flexibility and strong support that donors have shown in providing funding for an emergency response, but what’s also needed is a more holistic, long-term approach that focuses heavily on promoting good hygiene practices.
Cases of Hepatitis E were first reported in the Madi Opei sub-county of Kitgum District in October 2007. The outbreak has since spread to 17 out of 19 sub-counties in Kitgum, as well as Gulu, Pader and Yumbe Districts.
On hearing of the outbreak, the IRC immediately mobilized its health teams in Kitgum District where it has been working since 1998. In Agoro and Paloga sub-counties, the IRC has repaired nearly 20 boreholes, chlorinated 38 water points, rehabilitated school latrines and installed hand-washing facilities.
Four full-time IRC clinicians support two health centers in Agoro and Paloga, alongside Ministry of Health staff. These two centers have seen and treated more than 3,260 patients with Hepatitis E. The IRC is also supporting village health teams to monitor the spread of the outbreak, refer potential cases and raise awareness about Hepatitis E in general. The teams have visited nearly 2,100 households, providing them with crucial information on simple but effective ways to prevent the spread of Hepatitis E.
“There are very basic steps that people can take to prevent the spread of Hepatitis E,” says the IRC’s environmental health coordinator in Uganda Jockus Zamari. “Always wash your hands with soap and water after using latrines and before preparing food. Transport and store water in clean, covered containers, boil water completely before drinking, and thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables in safe water before eating.”
IRC teams also advise anyone who thinks they may have Hepatitis E to seek immediate advice at their local health facility.
The IRC has been working in co-operation with the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster in Kitgum and is a member of the Hepatitis E National Task Force. The IRC hopes that all cluster members and the Ministry of Health will continue to share information on a regular basis to ensure effective co-operation in the fight against Hepatitis E.
The IRC’s interventions to combat Hepatitis E are funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), the Austrian Development Agency, and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. The IRC appreciates their continued support.