By Nicole Namubiru.
Ugandans put on alert as deadly virus hits neighbouring DR Congo
An African proverb says, ‘when a person who has ever been bitten by a snake sees a lizard, he will flee from it.’ So when a suspected Ebola victim caused panic at Entebbe International Airport a few weeks ago, one would understand. In recent years, Uganda has had nasty experiences with deadly viral diseases including Ebola, Marburg, Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic fever and Rift Valley fever. Fortunately, the Entebbe victim tested negative to any of these viruses. But Ugandan health experts remain wary.
Ebola has been spreading like wildfire in West African countries. Guinea was first to be struck in March before Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and recently DR Congo followed suit. The deadly disease claimed almost 1,500 lives in West Africa alone. One of them was a Ugandan doctor who was working in Liberia.
Ugandan health officials have been giving assurances that the country is safe. But when reports emerged that the virus had killed 13 people in neighbouring DR Congo by Aug.25, new anxiety cropped up in the population. What makes the situation worse is that the place where the confirmed cases of Ebola victims are isolated is about 1,870 kms from the DR Congo-Uganda border. Dr Kenneth Omona Olusegun, the chairperson of the Health Committee of Parliamentary has called for more vigilance. “The world is more inter-linked with modern transportation today. Anywhere can be so close regardless of the geographical boundaries and location. Therefore all protective measure is needed to quarantine against Ebola,” he said.
Indeed, on Aug.8, for the third time the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Ebola a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ (PHEIC). The government and other health officials are desperate to ensure that the virus does not cross to Uganda. The Ministry of Health has issued a statement to diplomatic missions on the situation saying they are “actively preparing for any eventuality in regard to this outbreak.”
The Ministry of Health has so far dispatched eight experts to West Africa to support the efforts to control the epidemic. The experts are undertaking activities that include; surveillance, contact tracing, data management, case management, specimen collection, laboratory testing, infection control and prevention in addition to health promotion.
This would help in the acquisition of knowledge that pertains to the disease so as to apply the necessary protective measures for the Ugandan citizens not to fall prey to it. Already, an isolation facility at Entebbe Grade B Hospital has been set up to attend to any suspected case. The staff have all been oriented on handling Ebola patients including infection control and supportive care. Beatrice Rusaniya, a committee member on the Parliamentary health committee, and the Woman MP for Kiruhura District, said Ugandans should keep calm and be vigilant. She added that Ugandans should follow guidelines that are given by the health officials. “Though the disease is not in Uganda, I would advise people not to shake hands or hug,” she said.
At a Ministry of Health’s Task Force meeting on Aug.25, strategies to control the Ebola spread in Uganda were discussed. A decision to set up screening centers at the six border points with the DR Congo were made. These include; Kisoro, Mpondwe in Kasese, Otramachaku in Arua, Goli in Nebbi, Lendu in Zombo and Vura in Arua.
On the other hand, the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA), a committee of the East African Community (EAC) partner states, civil aviation authorities and airport authorities held an urgent meeting on Aug.21 to discuss the matter. One of the resolutions they made to combat the disease was to provide medical advice to persons moving to and from the highly-infected areas especially West Africa.
Preparations are also underway to train officers to undertake the screening services at the identified border points. The officers include health workers, immigration officers and security personnel along the border points. Furthermore, the government has reinforced its screening services at Entebbe International Airport to screen all travellers using the airport. An isolation facility was also set up for purposes of screening travelers at Busia and Malaba border posts. In addition to that, the government has directed all health facilities especially those along the DR Congo border to strengthen their border surveillance and infection control measures in readiness for any eventuality. Logistics and supplies to the border hospitals of Nebbi, Nyapea, Bwera and Kisoro will be delivered in due course. The regional referral hospitals of Hoima and Arua are also already stocked with the necessary logistics.
Though Uganda has not registered any Ebola cases, the government still remains on the alert to keep it this way.
As a result, Uganda has been globally recognized by WHO as a model country in the struggle against Ebola. The Wall Street Journal in and a recent article titled, “A tale of two Africas,” has also made this assertion.