Culture, myths threaten disease control in Uganda

Culture, myths threaten disease control in Uganda

Kampala, Uganda | URN | A number of myths and misconceptions attached to cultural beliefs are affecting the fight against infectious diseases in various parts of the country, according to Dr Charles Olara, the Director Curative Services at the Ministry of Health.

Olara told this publication that studies on the distribution and determinants of outbreaks, and the control of diseases and other health problems, are failing in the country because of people who tag epidemics to cultural considerations and events.

A case in point is the latest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which eventually spread into Uganda through the porous border of Mpondwe, Kasese District. The disease has claimed 2,108 lives over the last one year, out of 3,157 cases registered, in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, in the northeastern part of the country, near the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

But many people in the DRC and in border communities still believe that the Ebola virus is airborne, waterborne or spreads through casual contact. Despite sensitization campaigns by health ministries and experts, many believed that they could beat the deadly disease by eating raw onions once a day for three days or by merely taking antibiotics.

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A number of people also believed that a daily intake of condensed milk can prevent Ebola infections, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The other misconceptions cited are related to the outbreak of nodding syndrome, a disease which hit children in parts of northern Uganda, close to a decade ago.

Communities in Kitgum and Pader districts linked the disease to witchcraft, while many said it was a ploy to extend political control and ethnic divisions in the Acholi region. Dr Miph Musoke, a professor of epidemiology at Nkumba University says that such misconceptions have hindered all efforts to contain outbreaks of infectious diseases in the country.

He also points out that often, patients prefer the use of local herbs to treat serious infections before seeking professional medical advice or use the two concurrently, and as a result, affect the management of infections.

Charles Olara, the Director for curative services at the Ministry of Health observes a need for a combination of measures to help societies outgrow culture and specific myths during outbreaks.

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Olara proposes the sensitization of people across the country and the advancement of the locally manufactured herbs to suit those needed by advanced medical facilities if they are to treat people against any epidemiological situation.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) equally observes that myths and misperceptions regarding infectious diseases have detrimental effects on global health when a disease outbreak occurs.