Although Uganda has not recorded any case of Ebola outbreak, the country is on high alert as chances of a likely spread from neighboring eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are high.
The common border between Uganda and eastern DRC is porous and there is a lot of human activity. Large numbers of people cross the border daily for trade, health services, education and cultural relationships.
Huge numbers of Congolese are also fleeing to Uganda seeking refugee due to fighting back home.
According to Uganda’s ministry of health, the Congolese government recently intercepted five families with affected persons trying to cross into Uganda.
All this has caused concern to Uganda which fears that the deadly disease can easily spread beyond its current epicenter in DRC.
Uganda’s health minister Ruth Aceng is currently heading a delegation to DRC where they are discussing with their Congolese counterparts on measures how they can jointly fight the hemorrhagic fever.
In a meeting held on Wednesday in the Congolese town of Goma, Aceng said the two countries need to have high level coordination mechanisms and common platform to address common challenges in containing the Ebola outbreak.
Aceng, according to a ministry of health statement issued here on Wednesday told the Congolese delegation, head by Oly Ilunga, health minister that there is need to strengthen cross-border surveillance by encouraging collaboration between the local health zone in DRC and the border districts in Uganda.
She also said there is need to deploy technical experts between the two countries when required. She added that joint risk assessments and joint response, in case of Ebola cases on the border line are needed.
“We look forward to a formal engagement with your teams at the border health zones with my teams in the border districts,” Aceng told the meeting.
Minister Ilunga said fighting in some parts of eastern DRC have hampered government’s response to the Ebola outbreak. He said there are areas with the Ebola outbreak but are under the control of local militias known as the Mai Mai. He noted that to access these areas, the health officials have to negotiate with the militias.
He said areas controlled by the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have not had any Ebola response interventions.
“The security situation in the jungles controlled by the ADF has made it difficult for us to respond to the outbreak in these areas. We have not made any contact with the ADF,” Ilunga said.
The Congolese minister said that besides the challenges, the vast central African country is fighting the outbreak. According to the DRC ministry of health, over 10,000 health care workers in the affected areas have been vaccinated against the disease.
Health experts on the Ugandan side of the border say they have put up strong measures to combat the disease just in case it spreads to Uganda. There is an ongoing vaccination exercise of health care workers in the five border districts that face the most risk.
World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement on Nov. 25 said over 1,000 health care and frontline workers have so far been vaccinated out of the targeted 2,000. The vaccination started on Nov. 7.
The global health body said at least 2,100 doses of experimental rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine are currently available in the east African country, while supplementary doses have been requested.
Health workers in the border districts have been trained on how to handle Ebola cases.
Surveillance and teams screening people crossing the border have also been deployed.
Uganda has had five Ebola outbreaks in the last two decades, mostly along its western regions close to the DRC, according to the ministry of health. The ministry says all the outbreaks were controlled at source with limited spread beyond the localities of original incidence.
The Ebola virus is highly contagious and causes a range of symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhea, generalized pain or malaise and in many cases internal and external bleeding.
Mortality rates of Ebola fever, according to WHO, are extremely high, with the human case fatality rate ranging from 50 percent to 89 percent, depending on viral sub-type.