Uganda tightens border, bans gatherings after Ebola death
Ugandan authorities beefed up border controls and banned public gatherings in the region affected by Ebola on Thursday, confirming a second death after the disease was first detected in the country this week.
The country’s health ministry said that a 50-year-old grandmother had died on Wednesday evening after arriving in Uganda on June 10 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Ebola has killed more than 1,300 people since August.
The woman’s 5-year-old grandson also died from the disease and his 3-year-old brother was confirmed to have contracted Ebola. The health ministry said that there were three suspected cases not related to the family and their blood samples had been sent for testing.
“The outbreak is REAL and we urge all residents of Uganda to remain vigilant and report any suspected cases to the nearest health facility,” said the Thursday statement from Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng of Uganda’s Ministry of Health.
The World Health Organization has scheduled an emergency meeting to be held Friday in Geneva to decide whether the Congo Ebola outbreak that crossed the border into Uganda this week constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
This will be the third such meeting since the outbreak began. The most recent one in April when the health body decided not to declare the outbreak an international health emergency — a move that drew criticism from some. WHO defines a public health emergency of international concern as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a “public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease” and “to potentially require a coordinated international response.”
The Congo outbreak is both the second largest and second deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. The epicenter is in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, among the most populous in the Congo and bordering Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Concern had been mounting that the infectious disease would spread across the border, underscored by an increase in the number of cases in recent weeks.
Uganda’s health ministry added that five surviving members of the family, including the infected 3-year-old boy, had been repatriated with their consent to Congo on Thursday morning. The Ugandan father of the deceased boy has also agreed to be repatriated with his family, the statement said.
Uganda’s Ministry of Health said it had agreed with its counterpart in Congo to staff unofficial border points between the two countries and share information on any “unusual events” immediately.
In its latest situation report on Uganda, the World Health Organization said that the health minister had banned mass gatherings in Kasese District.
On Wednesday, the ministry had appealed to the public to “suspend social norms like shaking hands and hugging” and called on border districts to suspend events such as weddings and markets and mass gatherings in places of worship.
However, the ministry said that Uganda remained safe for international travelers and national parks. Tourist sites will remain open.
Vaccination has proven effective
Unlike the 2014 outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, there are now experimental vaccines and experimental treatments to help stop the spread of the disease.
The Congo outbreak has proven difficult to bring under control because of community mistrust and violent attacks on health care workers.
Dr. Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the WHO representative in Uganda, said that 4,700 health workers in Uganda had already been vaccinated as a precaution and they would now begin vaccinating people who had come into contact with the family and other health care staff.
While the vaccine is still classed as experimental, it has been found to be 97% effective in Congo.