East Afr Med J. 1995 Oct; 72(10): 649-53.
Social anthropological aspects of onchocercal skin disease in Nebbi District, Uganda.
Department of Psychiatry, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.
In providing health care, the busy medical practitioner often lacks the "I-You" quality of the personal experience of illness. This paper reports the perceptions, beliefs and practices of persons living in a hyperendemic focus of onchocerciasis in Nebbi District, north-western Uganda. The study involved the use of focus group discussion and semi-structured interviews designed to explore the experiences, meanings, and illness-related coping strategies employed by the community. The results indicated that oncherciasis is considered to be a mysterious elusive disease which cannot be treated by local herbs. The disease is often mistaken for measles (odyer), and leprosy (dhobu). Persons who suffer from onchocerciasis believed that the cause of the disease is the small black fly (Kamacur), dirty water or rivers. However, non-affected individuals believed that the condition is caused by poor personal and environmental hygiene, and personal contact with persons affected by onchocerciasis. Affected people recommended public health education to control the disease while non-affected people, recommended the avoidance of personal contact with affected people, ensuring personal hygiene, and the improvement of environmental sanitation and the nutritional status of community. The belief systems of the community are probably responsible for the discriminatory practices of the people against those affected by the condition. The results indicate that onchocerciasis is a serious public health problem which needs to be controlled.