Uganda, at high risk for Ebola, starts vaccinating medics

Grant Boone
November 9, 2018

WHO said in a statement released on Wednesday that it is "highly likely" that Ugandans in districts near the border will be infected with the virus, due to their close proximity to the epicentre of the outbreak, and high population movements due to trade, social and cultural connections and the relatively easy access to health services.

Uganda has started vaccinating health workers against Ebola in a border district near the outbreak in Congo.

No Ebola cases have been reported in Uganda, but the World Health Organization said communities on the DRC-Uganda border will likely be infected soon.

It will be the first time the vaccine is used in a country not in the midst of an active Ebola outbreak.

As of November 4, DRC had registered a total of 285 Ebola cases, with a total of 200 deaths. A number of health workers including the renowned Dr Mathew Lukwiya contracted the disease and died as they cared for EVD patients.

While the vaccine is not available for public use and is considered experimental, it's being handed out under a compassionate use program, the World Health Organization said.

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"The affected areas in the DRC [North Kivu and Ituri provinces] are about 100km from Uganda's border districts", she said.

Other preparatory activities underway in Uganda to prevent the spread of the disease include health facility and community-based surveillance; collection and testing of blood samples; and cross-border monitoring.

In vaccinating frontline health workers against EVD even before Uganda detects a single case explains that health authorities are being cautious having learnt bitter lessons from previous outbreaks.

Ebola was first reported in Congo in 1976 and is named for the river where it was recognized. In 2000 and 2001, 574 people were infected and 261 died in Uganda. "Not because of the unequipped terrain and unpaved dirt roads but because these villages act as front lines between the different armed groups", Dr. Eric Mukuma, a health zone coordinator for the aid group CARE, wrote in an editorial in the Guardian newspaper.Some patients have also fled treatment centers, carrying the virus with them. Since then there have been regular outbreaks across Central and West African countries.

The infection is capable of killing 20 to 70 percent of those who are infected depending on the strain of virus.

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