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Health workers overwhelmed as Namugongo numbers soar

A Red Cross volunteer giving out disinfectant gel at Namugongo. PHOTO RED CROSS

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Health workers screening pilgrims at the Uganda Martyrs Shrine, Namugongo are overwhelmed with the numbers amid limited human resource and inadequate supplies.

A number of screening centres were set up by the Ministry of Health in the wake of an Ebola crisis that has devastated the Democratic Republic of Congo for close to ten months.  Each pilgrim at Namugongo is screened to determine their temperature, and places they have visited prior to the pilgrimage.

In addition to that, the ministry and other partners have set up hand washing facilities, with Chlorine Water to disinfect all persons entering Namugongo.  Teams from the Uganda Red Cross Society and Uganda Peoples Defense Forces –UPDF are also undertaking sensitizing drives in which pilgrims are taught about basic health practices like preventing body contact with others to control the spread of disease.

The medical teams are also providing first aid to pilgrims including among other things massaging those who have trekked long distances and handling some simple cases recorded.

Dr Eldard Mabumba, the Principal Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health notes that a number of pilgrims arriving at the shrines are fatigued while several others have tested positive to malaria.

“We are getting an increased number of malaria cases as the pilgrims continue to arrive. This can be justified by the environment and experience of pilgrims during their trek. They have braved heavy downpours, being exposed to mosquitoes among others,” Dr Mubumba says.

However, one health officer who sought anonymity says that the demand for services is higher than what they can contain. “This time the number is very high. Team members are tired and we are very few which has slowed the exercise,” the health officer stated.

There are only two infrared thermometers used to check the multitudes of people in the long queues at the Anglican shrine. The two thermometers are being manned by one person who handles them in either hand to check both the males and females. The situation is worse at the Catholic shrines where huge volumes of pilgrims are continuing to flow in.

State Minister for Health Sarah Opendi says it was not anticipated that the numbers could be high on the first days like they turned out to be. She, however, adds that the ministry is working around the clock to ensure that they increase the medical supplies and human resource at the venues.

Up to last month, the number of Ebola deaths, in the DRC, according to UN figures, stood at 1,223 people. A third of those infected are children; a higher proportion than during previous outbreaks. But ongoing insecurity and community mistrust continue to hamper access to communities outside Ituri and North Kivu provinces, ultimately leading to more intense Ebola transmission.



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