Ugandans using urine to treat red eye disease – doctors warn against remedy

Govt confirms 13 cases of red eye infections in Arua city schools
A red eyes patient.

Amuru, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | In the region surrounding the Uganda-South Sudan border in Elegu Town Council, Amuru District, a peculiar method for treating conjunctivitis, commonly known as red eye disease, has emerged among some residents.

Health officials have noted a surge in cases of this highly contagious eye ailment since the beginning of last month within the bustling border town.

According to William Oyoo, a driver in Elegu Town Council, a number of drivers and locals have turned to applying urine drops into their eyes, believing it to be an effective remedy for the red eye infection.

Oyoo recounted instances where individuals claimed to have experienced relief from the red eye infection after three or four days of using their own urine as eye drops.

Swale Mansour, a bus conductor at Elegu Border Point, shared his experience, stating that he noticed symptoms of the disease three weeks ago, waking up with itchy and swollen eyelids. Subsequently, his wife also exhibited similar signs and symptoms.

Mansour claimed that they began applying their own urine as a treatment for the disease, asserting that within a mere three days, the redness and swelling had subsided.

“I am ok now, I used my own urine to treat the disease, even other people here in Elegu are using their urine for the same reason,” he said.

Health officials, however, have refuted the notion that urine serves as an effective cure for red eyes, emphasizing the importance of seeking proper medical treatment from trained healthcare professionals.

Dr. Kenneth Cana, the Health Officer for Gulu District, pointed out that urine contains toxins that can be harmful to the eyes. He strongly advised community members to rely solely on medical treatment provided by healthcare facilities.

“The believe that urine can cure red eye disease is a false one and I advise locals to stop using it. Urine is very toxic, it’s a waste excreted from the body because it has no use in the body,” he said.

Patrick Luis Lamot, serving as the Port Health Focal Point Person at Elegu Border Point, have reported that the outbreak of the disease has affected 393 individuals from April 3, 2024, up to the present.

In Gulu, Dr. Cana highlighted that since the onset of the outbreak earlier last month, they have documented 360 cases of red eye disease, with the majority concentrated in the urban areas of Gulu city.

Health officials stationed at Elegu border point disclosed that they screen a total of 1,000 individuals daily, including members of cross-border communities who traverse the border regularly.

The Ministry of Health declared a red eye outbreak in Uganda back in March of this year, with the most impacted areas reported to be schools and prison facilities within Kampala. The disease has since spread to various districts nationwide, prompting the Health Ministry to advocate for regular handwashing as a preventive measure.

Also Read: Govt confirms 13 cases of red eye disease in Arua city schools

Red eye disease is characterized by inflammation of the conjunctiva, resulting in redness of the eye, blurred vision, itching, or burning sensations. In a report obtained by the Kampala Dispatch, Lamot observed that most of those infected sought treatment from health facilities within Elegu Town Council, comprising mainly Ugandans and South Sudanese.

The report detailed that 162 patients sought treatment at Port Health Elegu, 64 at Golden Dic clinic, and 40 at Vitality Medical Centre between April 3 and April 22. Lamot identified the most affected groups at the border point as transporters, particularly loaders at vehicle stages, staff at hotels/restaurants, money changers, clearing agents, market traders, and a limited number of border management officials.

“We are seeing these cases due to the mass movement of people across the border areas of Uganda and South Sudan. this is also partly due to the failure by the individuals to follow up intervention measures such as hand washing,” he told the Kampala Dispatch in an interview.

He mentioned that since the outbreak was recorded, they have been consistently registering at least five cases per day. Due to the shortage of eye drops, health officials at Port Health Elegu are solely providing antibiotics to patients.

Meanwhile, residents of Mombasa County in Kenya have also turned to unconventional methods to cure red eye disease. They have resorted to using home-based remedies to treat conjunctivitis, an eye infection which is also universally known as ‘pink eye’ or ‘red eye’.

From tea leaves solution, saline water and herbals, residents who spoke to the Kampala Dispatch said they decided to take these remedies after pharmaceutical products failed to offer any relief.

Scientifically, black tea contains tannins called ellagitannin. Like other types of dietary polyphenols, ellagitannin exhibits strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects.

Other remedies that the residents have resorted to include using saline solution to rinse the eyes.

The saline solution is either home-made or sourced from the ocean.

Understanding Red Eye Disease: Causes, symptoms, and treatment options

Kampala schools report red eye disease outbreak, KCCA confirms
Close-up view of an eye affected by conjunctivitis, showing characteristic redness and irritation.

Conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as “red eye” or “pink eye” disease is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, transparent layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inner surface of the eyelid. This condition can result from various causes, including viral or bacterial infections, allergies, or irritants.

Viral conjunctivitis is often associated with respiratory infections such as the common cold and is highly contagious. It spreads through contact with respiratory secretions or by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the eyes. Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis include redness, watery discharge, irritation, and sometimes swelling of the eyelids.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pneumoniae. It can occur as a secondary infection following a cold or other respiratory illness or due to poor hygiene practices. Symptoms typically include redness, thick yellow or green discharge, and crusting of the eyelids, particularly upon waking.

Allergic conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva becomes inflamed due to exposure to allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander. It often presents with itching, redness, tearing, and swelling of the eyelids.

Also Read: Uganda steps up border screening amid South Sudan cholera outbreak

Conjunctivitis can also be caused by irritants such as smoke, chlorine in swimming pools, or chemicals in cosmetics or contact lens solutions. Symptoms may vary depending on the specific irritant but commonly include redness, tearing, and discomfort.

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the underlying cause. Viral conjunctivitis typically resolves on its own within one to two weeks, with supportive care such as cold compresses and artificial tears to alleviate symptoms.

Bacterial conjunctivitis may require antibiotic eye drops or ointment to clear the infection. Allergic conjunctivitis may be managed with antihistamine eye drops or oral medications to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms.

Preventive measures to reduce the risk of conjunctivitis include practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding touching the eyes with unwashed hands, avoiding sharing personal items such as towels or eye makeup, and avoiding close contact with individuals who have contagious forms of conjunctivitis.