The Ugandan government has come under attack after a major marathon event organised by MTN at a time when the country closed its schools, placed the central districts of Mubende and Kassanda under restrictive movement and is monitoring and restricting travel out of the country as well as encouraging social distancing in a bid to fight the spread of Ebola.
Flagged off by the country’s Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, the Sunday morning marathon, which started at Kololo Airstrip in Kampala city centre, attracted over 22,000 runners after two years of absence due to the Covid-19 pandemic-related lockdown and restrictions.
Two days earlier, while meeting journalists in Kampala, the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, had indicated that the government is considering restricting or blocking people from traveling for Christmas, noting that the movements will spread the disease and make it run out of control. She said people were reckless and the disease could bring the country to its knees in a matter of weeks.
Explaining the challenge Ebola is causing to the country, Dr Aceng said Kampala had been marked as a hotspot due to the high population density, congestion and movement, warning that once the disease hits the capital, it is likely to spread to neighbouring countries like Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan.
“I don’t want a lockdown, but Ebola can devastate a nation and bring it to its knees like the situation was in West Africa,” she said, adding that hotels were either refusing to host the quarantined people or charging them exorbitant amounts.
She said many people are spreading misinformation that there is no Ebola, and saying that the government wants to get money from donors to fund its budget since inflation and other related challenges have stifled business.
But after the Sunday event, a number of people expressed dismay at how the ministry is “practising double standards” in the Ebola fight. Opposition National Unity Platform party secretary-general Lewis Davis Rubongoya sayid a football match organised by the party in Masaka, about 120km southwest of Kampala, was blocked “because it was going to spread Ebola”.
“They said it would spread Ebola. Today, the permanent secretary of the Health ministry participated in a marathon with thousands of people,” he said on Sunday.
Mr Rubongoya speaoke after several people took to Twitter attacking the ministry over the marathon, with some making fun of the government’s messages meant to mobilise people to fight the disease.
The Ministry of Health has defended itself saying that following consultations with the technical officers, it had cleared and authorised the MTN 2022 Marathon after an assessment showed that the event posed no risk of Ebola transmission among the participants.
No participant with symptoms
“The Ministry of Health would like to categorically state as follows: that, unlike Covid-19, the risk of Ebola virus disease transmission and spread is highest when people are symptomatic (presenting with signs and symptoms). With the screening measures in place at the MTN Kampala Marathon, no participant presented with any symptom,” a statement from the ministry released on Monday stated.
The ministry also said symptomatic Ebola patients can barely engage in rigorous activities like running and aerobics and that Kampala Metropolitan Area has not registered cases beyond those that were under quarantine, having been contacts of confirmed cases recorded in Kampala.
The statement signed by the ministry’s spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, said the epicentre districts of Mubende and Kasanda in central Uganda remain under restricted movement to prevent the exportation of the Ebola virus to other parts of the country.
The marathon’s proceeds are meant for the improvement of children healthcare.
The Health ministry has also eased the restrictions previously imposed on Entebbe airport. According to a statement from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, the country’s body that manages air travel, the restrictions, which had previously caused inconveniences at Entebbe, the country’s only international airport, have been removed.
“Following communication from the Ministry of Health, the requirement for inbound and outbound passengers through Entebbe Airport to fill in a digital health declaration/locator form has been temporarily suspended until further notice,” the statement stated.
The Ebola virus has killed 55 people since it was declared in Uganda more than two months ago, according to the Health ministry. Over 141 cases have been confirmed, while 76 have recovered after treatment as health officials monitor the 764 contacts.
This week, Uganda is expected to receive three Ebola vaccine candidates for clinical trials, according to the World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.