East African countries are working on measures to prevent Ebola virus outbreaks across borders after the World Health Organisation issued a warning of the virus spreading from Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.
Efforts to contain the outbreak in DR Congo were hindered by the December election, with at least 30 health facilities around disease hotspots like Beni and Butembo targeted by protesters. Some citizens also fled into Uganda for fear of violence.
Rwanda, jointly with partners, has developed and is implementing an Ebola preparedness and contingency plan in Gihundwe and Mibilizi District Hospitals, and Kamembe Airport in Rusizi district, which has direct flights to Kigali.
WHO advised countries sharing a border with DR Congo to urgently strengthen their surveillance and alert systems for early detection, and timely and effective response to potential cases.
Regional countries have reintroduced routine screening of all travellers at points of entry and cautioned citizens to be vigilant.
Screening is ongoing at Rwanda’s Rubavu and Gisenyi districts, which border DR Congo as well as Kicukiro, where an Ebola treatment centre is located.
At the end of last year, vaccination of health and front-line workers at priority sites in Uganda began and preparations are underway for similar measures to be undertaken in Rwanda and South Sudan.
In South Sudan, a new multi-purpose Infectious Diseases Unit was opened as part of control and preparedness efforts.
Since November last year, $7.3 million has been mobilised for comprehensive preventive activities in South Sudan, since the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo on August 1.
The European Union’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, appealed for support for South Sudan to boost its efforts, especially at major entry points from DR Congo and Uganda at Yei River, Yambio, Nimule and Maridi.
According to WHO’s deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response Peter Salama, at least 30,000 informal traders and people go back and forth between the Uganda and DR Congo border, which poses a major challenge to the Ebola response.
According to the Red Cross, at least 60,000 people move between Rwanda and Congo daily; more than 24,000 people move across the DR Congo- Burundi border each month, and another 3,000 move between DR Congo and South Sudan each month.
Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu assured people living near the border with DR Congo that the government is on high alert to prevent the virus from spreading into the country.
Kenyan Health Minister Sicily Kariuki said the government has established a National Health Emergencies Council, tasked with preventing the spread of the virus.
According to WHO, as of January 15, there had been 663 cases of Ebola (614 confirmed and 49 probable), including 407 deaths (overall case fatality ratio was 61 per cent). So far, 237 people have been discharged from Ebola treatment centres.
Nine neighbouring countries were put on high alert by the WHO and advised that they are at high-risk of spread of the virus. Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, and Burundi are ranked Priority-1. Angola, Congo, Central African Republic, Tanzania, and Zambia are ranked Priority-2.
Preparedness activities have begun in these countries to ensure they are able to respond swiftly in the event of an Ebola outbreak.