Cholera – Day 75

Posted on May 17, 2012


The area I’m in has been plagued by cholera for more or less a month now. The worst of it is in the villages which lie along the lake’s shore including Bugoigo (remember camp Guan-Tanna-mo!) but there have been a few cases here in Biiso.

Once again a lot of people are blaming the Congolese for the spread of the infection saying they are dirty and have brought it with them to Uganda. I can’t help feeling sorry for them, they are the scapegoats for every domestic problem.

This morning I met a man called James who works for the Ministry of Health. His van has been parked outside my room for the last couple of nights. Today we finally had a chat.

He told me 22 people had cholera in the town, but that it has now been contained and that figure has dropped to five. Hygiene is the main reason. Culturally people make more food than they intend to eat in case they have an unexpected visitor. This is also how Asian people behave and my grandfather was a prime example. He was always feeding the neighbourhood strays. The problem is, if you don’t have that unexpected guest, you end up eating the same food for two or three days on the trot. Fine if you have a fridge, but if you don’t, it’s a recipe for all sorts of bacteria unless the food it reheated to a very high temperature.

James is trying to make people aware of the risks. He’s telling them to only eat hot food; to cover it to prevent flies from spreading disease and to wash their hands before eating. It’s basic common sense but it’s not easy to change how people’s habits.

“People were selling pancakes in the market and we told them: “You are not covering them after cooking so flies are landing on them and it’s causing a problem. You must stop selling for a while until we can contain the cholera. It is not helping the situation.”

“Did they listen? No, some continued to sell, so we arrested them and put them in jail for a few days so show these people we were serious,” he explained.

“But they have to make a living, so it’s inevitable they are not going to listen to you, how else can they earn money to feed their families?” I said.

“They won’t die of starvation from a few days of not selling. But they will die if they get cholera here,” he said.

Point taken.

When I arrived in Buliisa I was so paranoid about contracting cholera my OCD for cleanliness (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) went into overdrive. Every day while I was working in Piida, I drank a 250ml carton of warm long-life milk and ate a banana for lunch – living the highlife me. I didn’t eat anything from anyone or accept a glass of water. The food at the B&B is nice but I wish it was hotter. I have a feeling they cook it early and then reheat as and when someone orders.  But the place is clean and I have no major concerns.

In some of the other villages closer to Wansenko which is the last landing site on Lake Albert and very close to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); people have become so weak from dehydration and severe diarrhoea that health workers have started handing out mattresses with a hole already cut in the centre of it, so they don’t have to move. They just place a bucket underneath….grim I know. A course of antibiotics, clean water and food soon clears up the illness but this all takes time.

James and co. say their work is almost complete and will be heading back to the capital this weekend. I do admire people who work in areas like this, but I still didn’t shake his hand when he greeted me this morning.