Kampala — The Ministry of Health has disputed travel guidelines by World Health Organisation (WHO), advising pregnant women against travelling to Uganda, classified as Zika-infected country with a potential of passing birth defects to an unborn baby.
The Zika virus, which is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito and sex, is particularly said to increase pregnancy risks such as miscarriage, still birth and microcephaly in infants whose mothers were exposed in early pregnancy.
Microcephaly is a condition that causes a baby's head to be smaller than normal and not fully developed.
The newborn is also likely to have intellectual disability, speech delay, seizure and abnormal muscle functionality in severe cases.
However, the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, has challenged WHO to come out and explain how they came to a conclusion that there is circulation of Zika in the country, asking Ugandans to disregard the information as 'false' and baseless.
"That is very wrong information. Whereas it (Zika) was discovered in Uganda we don't have it and they know it very well. Even when it broke out in Brazil, we did not have it here," Dr Aceng said in a telephone interview on Friday.
"It [the information] is on their [WHO] website, ask them what they mean. Ask them that the minister said the information is on your website and you [WHO] should explain why," she added.
The minister also showed concern that the information is likely to affect Uganda's tourism industry as a country because it is likely to scare away tourists for fear of catching the Zika virus.
A statement on the WHO website reads: "Based on available evidence, WHO has issued no general restrictions on travel or trade with countries, areas and /or territories with Zika virus transmission. However, WHO is advising pregnant women not to travel to zika -affected areas in categories 1 and 2 in the country classification table."
Countries classified in category 1 are those which fall under areas with new introduction of Zika virus since 2015 or areas where the virus has been re-introduced, with ongoing transmission.
The countries include Angola, Guinea Bissau, Argentina, Cuba, British Virgin Islands, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago, among others.
On the other hand, countries classified under category 2 are those which are either with evidence of Zika virus circulation before 2015 or with ongoing transmission and may also experience an outbreak of Zika. These are; Uganda, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d'ivore, Gabon, Nigeria, Senegal , Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia , Costa Rica ,Ecuador, Venezuela, Jamaica and Mexico.
Mr Edmond Mwebembezi, the public information officer of WHO in Uganda, said the senior officials at the global health body had refused to comment on the matter, referring us to the Health ministry.
"The official who is supposed to respond says you get more information from the ministry... what more information do you want?" Mr Mwebembezi responded.
The Zika virus is also related to the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses.
About the virus
The Zika virus, which has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains in Brazil, was discovered in Zika Forest of Uganda, located on Entebbe, in Kisubi where the virus was first isolated in 1947.
Expectant women in some European countries, particularly in Belgium, are being asked not to travel to Uganda due to the risk of Zika virus infection as flagged by WHO. Uganda is also one of the 31 African countries listed on the website of Centres for Disease Control in the United States.