Thursday October 17, 2019
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Uganda Confirms First Ebola Case Outside DRC Outbreak

The announcement puts new pressure on the World Health Organization to declare the Ebola outbreak

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FILE- An Ebola health worker is seen at a treatment center in Beni, Eastern Congo, April 16, 2019. VOA

A child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighboring Congo last year, Uganda’s health ministry said late Tuesday, in a blow to efforts by health workers who for months sought to prevent contamination across the heavily traveled frontier.

The 5-year-old Congolese boy has been isolated with family members at a hospital in a western district near the Congo border, Ugandan Health Minister Jane Aceng told reporters.

The announcement puts new pressure on the World Health Organization to declare the Ebola outbreak — the second-deadliest in history — a global health emergency. The outbreak is unfolding amid unprecedented challenges of rebel attacks and community resistance in a region that had never experienced Ebola before.

In April, a WHO expert committee decided that the outbreak, while of “deep concern,” was not yet a global health emergency. But international spread is one of the major criteria the United Nations agency considers before such a declaration.

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FILE – A Congolese man holds a cross during the burial service of a Congolese woman who died of Ebola, at a cemetery in Butembo. VOA

Conflicting statements

It was not immediately clear when the boy entered Uganda. A WHO statement said he entered on Sunday with his family through the Bwera border post. He sought treatment at Kagando hospital and was transferred to Bwera Ebola treatment unit, WHO said.

Confirmation of Ebola was made Tuesday by the Uganda Virus Institute. “The ministry of health and WHO have dispatched a rapid response team to Kasese to identify other people who may be at risk,” WHO said.

Congo’s health ministry, however, in a separate statement said the boy, from Mabalako, arrived on Monday at Congo’s Kasindi border post. There, a dozen family members appeared to have symptoms and were transferred to an isolation center at the local hospital for observation.

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Six family members then broke away while being transferred to an Ebola treatment center in Beni and crossed into Uganda while Congolese border officials alerted their Ugandan colleagues, Congo’s health ministry said. Uganda officials found the family members at the Kagando hospital, where the boy’s Ebola case was confirmed.

Officials from the two countries will meet Wednesday about the possibility of sending the family back to Beni in Congo for treatment, the health ministry said.

It was not immediately clear how the family members were able to cross the border, where millions have travelers have been monitored for Ebola since the outbreak began.

Nearly 1,400 deaths

Uganda, Ebola, DRC
A child in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case. Pixabay

There have been more than 2,000 confirmed and probable cases of the Ebola virus in Congo since August, with nearly 1,400 deaths. The disease is spread mainly through contact with the bodily fluids of those infected.

For the first time, an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine is being widely used, with more than 130,000 doses distributed. Uganda has vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers, WHO said.

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Uganda has had multiple outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers since 2000. (VOA)

Next Story

WHO Reports Progress in Containing Ebola Outbreak in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

It is impossible to predict where the outbreak is going to go next, said Ryan.

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WHO, Ebola, Outbreak
The executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies, Michael Ryan, says he is largely optimistic that aid workers are getting control of the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo. VOA

The World Health Organization reports progress in containing the Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but says many challenges to its elimination remain.  WHO reports the number of cases in the outbreak now stands at 3,207, including 2,144 deaths.

The executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies, Michael Ryan, says he is largely optimistic that aid workers are getting control of the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo.  But, he says, it is impossible to say the outbreak is over.

“It is not.  It is impossible to predict where the outbreak is going to go next,” said Ryan. “But… I do–I would stand over the fact that we have significantly contained the virus in a much smaller geographic area.  Now we have to kill the virus.  The problem is, it is back in areas that are deeply insecure.”

In fact, the virus has come full circle.  Ryan notes the disease has moved from Butembo and other urban areas to the remote, rural town of Mangina, the epicenter of the outbreak.  He says the virus is back where it began when the Ebola outbreak was declared August 1, 2018.

WHO, Ebola, Outbreak
But, he says, it is impossible to say the outbreak is over. Pixabay

“So, essentially the virus is back in the same zone,” said Ryan. “So, the factors that allowed that virus to transmit at low intensity for a number of months, have not changed.  Deep insecurity, reticence amongst the population, distrust and many other factors continue to make this a very dangerous situation.  But a situation, for which I believe we are making significant progress at this time.”

Ryan says WHO is increasing the scale of its operation, engaging in active surveillance across North Kivu province and actively seeking new cases and tracing contacts to keep the virus from spreading.

He says more than 230,000 people have been vaccinated against the deadly disease and more lives are being saved among people infected with the virus who are coming to the treatment centers.

He says the fatality rate among the nearly 800 patients currently in Ebola treatment units is less than one third – a significantly better outcome than the two-thirds fatality rate reported for the disease overall.

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Still, this is the biggest Ebola outbreak in Africa since the epidemic across three West African countries in 2014 killed more than 11,000 people. (VOA)