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From disease treatment to health promotion

Health ministry plans major switch in 2019 healthcare

Kampala, Uganda | FLAVIA NASSAKA | As 2018 ended, President Museveni was seen getting more involved in the country’s healthcare. First he launched the Presidential Fast Track Initiative to encourage men to get tested for HIV and enroll on treatment and then he went into distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets. There was also the launch of the National day of physical activity. The efforts were aimed at tackling three illnesses – HIV, malaria and now lifestyle illnesses which seem to be what will top healthcare managers’ agenda in 2019.

Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng says their focus in the New Year will be more into health promotion and education. This means we could be seeing teams of people visiting homes in door-door programs to see whether children are immunised, whether family planning methods are being taken up, whether people are eating right or if there are any strange illnesses that people are noticing. Aceng says the model, which is being adopted in the whole of Africa, is a robust system on surveillance.

“We realized people need to get involved in their own healthcare. It’s cheaper to prevent than to control,”she told the Independent on Dec.19 giving an example of an Ebola outbreak that caught countries in West Africa unaware.

She said because of the huge investment that went into control over the two years of the outbreak, the three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are still just recovering from the shock. In preparedness alone, to keep the country on guard against the active Ebola outbreak in Congo, Aceng says Uganda had by end of 2018 spent over $19 million coming mainly from donors.

In the New Year, while she predicts Uganda will register a hemorrhagic fever outbreak, she says they will be able to control it without much damage.

“These fevers are called emerging and re-emerging diseases. Chances are high that you will register an outbreak each year. For Ebola it’s usually between August and December. The country is prone to these outbreaks,” she says.

Aceng says with surveillance, they are cataloging threats and are speedily discovering new viruses that even when outbreaks happen they can be easily identified which in turn helps to decrease intensity and length of such outbreaks.

Also, with advancements in research, those that will be infected have higher chances of survival. She says this is because there are many therapeutic treatment trials which might give good results like the experimental drug – ZMapp which is already showing some degree of efficacy.

With the surveillance and health promotion agenda, government is planning to train more health workers and also recruit Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWs). The extension workers were supposed to be introduced in 2018 when, in the 2018/2019 budget, the government allocated them Shs3.2billion for their monthly allowances as the programme was to be piloted in 750 parishes in North and Eastern Uganda districts where each of the parishes was to be allocated two individuals.

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