Ebola: Step up preparedness, E.Africa urged

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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni  PHOTO | COURTESY

Summary

  • As President Yoweri Museveni rules out imposing a lockdown to contain an Ebola outbreak in Uganda, the East African Community has urged member states to enhance emergency preparedness

Arusha. The East African Community (EAC) yesterday urged partner states to enhance emergency preparedness and response activities following an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda.

Authorities in the East African nation declared an outbreak in the central district of Mubende last week after the country reported its first fatality from the virus since 2019.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday ruled out imposing a lockdown to contain the highly contagious Ebola virus, saying the country had the capacity to contain the outbreak.

The caseload stood at 24 with five confirmed deaths, Museveni told a televised press briefing.

“We decided that we shall not have lockdowns. It is not necessary,” Mr Museveni said.

“Government has capacity to control this outbreak as we have done before. There is no need for anxiety, no restrictions of movements, closure of schools places of worships, markets as of now,” he said.

The EAC urged to enhance surveillance and laboratory testing especially at border areas; to implement appropriate infection prevention and control measures and increase risk communication and community awareness of the disease.

“I ask partner states to consider the deployment of the EAC mobile laboratories to the strategic outbreak hotspots and at the various border point of entries. This shall enhance screening of the suspected cases as these mobile laboratories have the capabilities to handle such level 3 and 4 pathogens,” said the EAC counsel to the community (CTC) and acting deputy secretary general for productive and social sectors, Dr Anthony Kafumbe.

Dr Kafumbe said that the secretariat would work with partner states to coordinate emergency preparedness and response activities across the region.

There have been seven previous outbreaks of the Sudan ebolavirus, with four occurring in Uganda and three in Sudan.

Uganda last reported an outbreak of Sudan ebolavirus in 2012. In 2019, the country experienced an outbreak of Zaire ebolavirus, crossing from the North-Eastern region of the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In addition to the trained technical experts, the deployment of the EAC Mobile Laboratories to Kisoro also played an important role in the rapid response in Uganda.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed optimism in Uganda’s ability to tackle the epidemic and is helping Ugandan health authorities with the investigation and deploying staff to the affected area.

“Uganda is no stranger to effective Ebola control. Thanks to its expertise, action has been taken quickly to detect the virus and we can bank on this knowledge to halt the spread of infections,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

Ebola is an often-fatal viral haemorrhagic fever. The disease is named after a river in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where it was discovered in 1976.

Human transmission is through body fluids, with the main symptoms being fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea.

Outbreaks are difficult to contain, especially in urban environments.

People who are infected do not become contagious until symptoms appear, which is after an incubation period of between two and 21 days.

At present there is no licensed medication to prevent or treat Ebola, although a range of experimental drugs are in development.

Uganda, which shares a porous border with the DRC, has experienced several Ebola outbreaks, most recently in 2019 when at least five people died.

The DRC on Tuesday declared an end to an Ebola virus outbreak that emerged in eastern North Kivu province six weeks ago.

Only one case of the virus had been confirmed, according to the World Health Organization, making the DRC’s Ebola outbreak its “least catastrophic”.

The worst epidemic in West Africa between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 alone. The DRC has had more than a dozen epidemics, the deadliest killing 2,280 people in 2020.