Tuesday February 25, 2020
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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.

Uganda, Ebola, DRC
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 Runs Out of Funds to Tackle Ebola in Congo

WHO Warns It is Running Out of Money to Tackle Ebola Epidemic in DRC

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Congolese Ebola
Congolese and the World Health Organization officials wear protective suits as they prepare equipment before the launch of vaccination campaign against the deadly Ebola virus near Mangina village, near the town of Beni in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

By Lisa Schlein

The World Health Organization is urgently appealing for $40 million to salvage its operation to bring the Ebola epidemic to an end in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the latest health news.

The Ebola operation in eastern DR Congo’s conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces is on financial life-support.  The World Health Organization reports its coffers will be empty at the end of this month.  It is urging donors to step up immediately and contribute the money needed to tackle this virulent disease.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says failure to support this operation would be tragic as good progress is being made in containing the Ebola virus.  Over the past two months, he says between three and 15 cases of Ebola have been reported each week.   This is compared to 120 reported cases of Ebola in April 2019.

Congolese Ebola
A person dressed in Ebola protective apparel is seen inside an Ebola care facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda. VOA

“Last week there was only one case reported and we are down to only two health zones in eastern DRC where we have Ebola cases.  But again, if we do not receive this funding, we risk obviously to have more spread of the virus.  So, therefore, there is this appeal to get more funding,” he said.

WHO reports 3433 cases of Ebola, including 2253 deaths, for an overall case fatality rate of 66 percent.  Jasarevic says money from the $40 million appeal also will be used for preparedness activities in neighboring countries.

He notes a modest WHO investment of $18 million in helping Uganda set up screening, monitoring and other systems succeeded in stopping Ebola from taking root in that country last year. He tells VOA it is crucial that the Ebola operation not be interrupted because as long as there is one case of the disease, there will be a risk of further spread.

“So, we have to really get down to zero.  We are making progress, but again, whether you have one case, or you have more cases, the activities that you have to put in place are the same.  So, we need to make sure that activities are funded,” said Jasarevic.

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There have been eight confirmed cases of Ebola reported from Beni and Mabalako in North Kivu Province in the past 21 days.  But WHO reports there have been no new cases reported for more than 42 days from Butembo and Mambasa Health Zones.  WHO calls the reduction of geographic spread of the Ebola virus and the declining number of cases encouraging. (VOA)