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Unmanned borders still challenge Ebola screening efforts- IOM

FILE PHOTO: Screening at the border

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The existence of informal and unmanned entry points between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and several other countries, is a hindrance to all efforts to tame the deadly Ebola virus, according to health and immigration officials from the two countries.

They observe that while there are more than 150 points of entry into the country, only 20 are formal, posing a high risk of infection for Uganda even as the country has tried to swiftly handle infections that have come up in recent months before spreading to more people.

Uganda has so far recorded four cases of Ebola, all of them involving people who have entered the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo through Kasese District. The latest was a nine-year-old Congolese girl, who entered Uganda through Mpondwe border post on August 28.  The child who was diagnosed with high fever, body weakness, rash and unexplained mouth bleeding, died a day later.

This was the second time a confirmed Ebola case had crossed into Uganda. Earlier in June, a family from DRC crossed into Uganda via a bush path. All three subsequently died of Ebola.

Andrew Mbala, the Coordinator Ebola preparedness at the International Organization for Migration of the United Nations says they have been challenged in screening because of the numerous unmanned points of entry between Uganda and the DRC, where more than 2000 people have succumbed to the deadly disease over the last 13 months.

He was speaking during a meeting aimed at brainstorming on how to improve cross border preparedness for Ebola Disease Surveillance at Uganda and DRC points of entry. The meeting held this morning in Kampala was attended by officials from DR Congo and Uganda.

He adds that risk communication is needed alongside community sensitization campaigns to discourage people from using the porous borders.

Dr Allan Muruta, the Commissioner Epidemiology and Surveillance at the Ministry of Health told the meeting that up to seven million people have so far been screened for Ebola at the various border points since Ebola broke out in the neighbouring DR Congo.

While reviewing the status of the recommendations made at previous bilateral meetings both in Congo and Uganda, the officials noted that they have failed to document a mechanism which would guide both countries on how to share or weekly situational reports.

Also, during the previous meetings, the countries agreed to hold joint health training but so far only one of such meetings have been held in Kasese and they recommended that these be scaled up if they are to share notes on control.

The challenge officials of Uganda noted that while they carry out surveillance and screening especially around the border, the DR Congo side is not screening, which somehow undoes Uganda’s efforts.

The DRC shares its borders with nine countries. There is regular cross-border movement of people, goods and services in the region. Combined with weaknesses in national health systems, the nine neighbouring countries are at very high risk for an Ebola outbreak.

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