Uganda on high alert over Ebola spread in DR Congo election aftermath

Saturday December 29 2018

People from the Democratic Republic of Congo

People from the Democratic Republic of Congo wash their hands at an Ebola screening point in Mpondwe, western Uganda, on December 12, 2018. PHOTO | AFP 

By DICTA ASIIMWE
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Uganda has heightened Ebola surveillance and prevention preparedness amid fears that the general election in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo could lead to a refugee influx.

Government officials said such an influx refugee influx in the post-election period, could trigger cross-border Ebola outbreaks in the neighbouring countries, especially Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

“Cognisant of the fact that there may be post-election unrest, we are increasing our capacity to screen more people,” said the Minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng.

Dr Aceng said that the polls increase the likelihood of people moving together in groups, which in turn raises the probability of spreading the haemorrhagic fever.

Dr Aceng said that Uganda is investing in more thermometers and walk-through screens to hasten the screening process.

Uganda currently has 24 screening points, including one at Entebbe Airport. The rest are located in five districts in the southwest.

Information from the World Health Organisation shows that 2.3 million people from the DRC entering Uganda had been screened by December 2018.

The majority went through the land borders in western Uganda while at Entebbe only 74,200 people were screened.

Dr Yonas Tegegn, WHO representative in Uganda, said that even as the screening, surveillance and preparation of isolation and treatment centres for Ebola are being done for all of the nine neighbours of DRC, the highest emphasis is on the three in the east— Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda.

Uganda has so far vaccinated 2,260 health workers in the 20 high-risk districts and 600 more Ebola vaccine doses are yet to be used.

The high risk districts include those at the border and refugee hosting ones like Kamwenge, Kampala and Wakiso.

With the government expecting 3,000 more vaccine doses, the number of frontline health workers inoculated against Ebola will be close to 6,000.

Costs involved

These efforts have cost Uganda, Ush69.8 billion ($19 million) since the outbreak was announced in August.

In the event of even a single Ebola case crossing into Uganda, Dr Aceng says that the country will carry out a ring vaccination of people who might have had contact with the patient.

Dr Miriam Nanyunja, disease prevention and control advisor at the WHO said that the case fatality rate for the ongoing DRC outbreak stands at 59 per cent. This is quite high compared with other outbreaks like that in West Africa that had a 40 per cent case fatality rate, despite the fact that the vaccine was available mid-way.

According to data from WHO, in 2007, Uganda registered the lowest Ebola case fatality rate of 24 per cent.

Dr Tegegn said that the outbreak has been hard to control because it is affecting areas occupied by the Allied Democratic Forces and Mai Mai militia, which block access to patients in their territories.