Fighting deadly Ebola in rural Uganda has been hampered by belief in witchcraft or witchdoctors, ignorance, misconceptions and failure to observe hygiene protocols, Health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng explained.
Talking to the media on Friday, Dr Aceng said a village celebrity caught the virus, went to a bar where he interacted with revellers, and by the time the disease put him down, he had more than 40 contacts.
The area being an opposition stronghold, people held the view that there was no Ebola and that the government was only saying its the epicentre of the disease to get money from development partners.
Dr Aceng further said some villagers, believing Ebola was a result of witchcraft, ran away to a neighbouring village, spreading the disease.
The rough terrain, poor roads, and the rainy season have compounded the Ebola response challenge. The minister said ambulances have been getting stuck and unable to move in various parts of the affected districts.
Explaining the challenge Ebola is causing to the country, she 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 was likely to spread to neighbouring countries such as 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 refusing or charging exorbitant amounts to host the quarantined people.
According to the minister, Uganda is considering restricting movement during the Christmas festivities to contain the spread. Ugandans often travel more during the celebrations, mainly from the cities to villages. At the same time, village traders move to cities to buy commodities for the festivities, actions that could cause an Ebola explosion, according to health officials.
The Ebola virus has killed 55 people since it was declared in Uganda over 60 days ago, according to World Health Organisation (WHO). Over 141 cases have been confirmed, while 76 have recovered after treatment as the health officials monitor the 764 contacts.
Officials say there has been a success with a drop in average daily cases recorded from 10 to about two in the last week.
Next week Uganda is expected to receive three Ebola vaccine candidates for clinical trials, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.
The vaccine trials were approved by Uganda and the UN health agency, which is working with the ministry and Makerere University for the trial preparations.
Health workers and people who were in contact with Ebola patients will be among the first to be inoculated, the ministry said.
Ebola has spread to nine districts, including Kampala, Masaka, and Jinja.
To support Uganda, the WHO has deployed more than 200 experts, including over 60 epidemiologists. The agency has also launched an $ 88.2 million appeal for the Ebola response, including in neighbouring countries, of which about $17 billion or 20 percent has been received.
The strain, the Sudan Ebola virus, is the fifth outbreak since it was identified in 1976.