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Uganda Readies Itself To Fight Off Ebola From The DRC Border

A 2007 Ebola outbreak in Uganda, in the border town of Bundibugyo, infected 149 people

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Health workers walk with a boy suspected of having been infected with the Ebola virus, at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, near Congo's border with Uganda. VOA
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In Uganda, officials have stepped up measures to prevent an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Ebola has infected 319 people in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo since August, killing 198. The border between the countries remains open, and health experts fear the virus will enter Uganda through the cross-border traffic.

The Lamia River marks the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola-infected North Kivu Province and Uganda.

Despite the deadly viral outbreak, Uganda’s Health Ministry says 20,000 people cross the border every week, putting the country at high risk.

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Congolese health workers register people and take their temperatures before they are vaccinated against Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

Ugandan Jane Biira goes to the DRC side at least twice a week to buy food and charcoal to sell back home.

“We have heard the disease is there but, we have to go out and trade. We are only a little scared, because we have never seen anyone fall ill with Ebola where we go. We buy the merchandise and leave.”

When Biira and others cross into Uganda they get checked at screening points by health care workers and volunteers, like Boaz Balimaka.

“We have the hand-washing, then disinfecting the feet, and screening, then we allow somebody to pass.”

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A Congolese health worker checks the temperature of a man 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

While no Ebola cases have yet been detected in Uganda, it can take up to three weeks for symptoms to appear.

The virus causes a severe hemorrhagic fever that kills at least half the people who become infected.

Even with border screenings, Butogo Town Council head John Kandole says they worry someone with Ebola could slip through.

“Somebody who comes from Congo, we don’t shake with him with hands. Once he comes to buy anything, he buy and go. And the money sometimes we have been fearing to get.”

Ebola, WHO, UNICEF, congo, Uganda
A World Health Organization (WHO) worker administers a vaccination during the launch of a campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 21, 2018. VOA

Uganda’s Health Ministry is stepping up preventive measures by deploying an experimental Ebola vaccine for health care and front-line workers along the border.

Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s health minister, says vaccines are also on standy-by.

Also Read: Ebola Not a Global Health Emergency: WHO

“Currently, in Uganda we have 2,100 doses of the vaccine available at the National Medical Stores, and preparations are in high gear, including training of the health workers that are to be targeted.”

A 2007 Ebola outbreak in Uganda, in the border town of Bundibugyo, infected 149 people, killed 37, and took several weeks to be contained. (VOA)

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The Young Miracle: Baby In Congo Suffering From Ebola Recovers

The latest WHO assessment, released Thursday, simply calls the circumstances "unforgiving."

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- In this photograph taken Dec. 3, 2018, and released by UNICEF, an Ebola survivor cares for one-week-old Benedicte who was infected at birth with the Ebola virus by her mother, at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Democratic Republic of the Congo. VOA

They call her the “young miracle.” A baby who was admitted to an Ebola treatment center just six days after birth has now recovered from the virus.

Congo’s health ministry calls the baby the youngest survivor in what is now the world’s second-deadliest Ebola outbreak.

The ministry late Thursday tweeted a photo of the infant, swaddled and with her tiny mouth open in yawn or squall, surrounded by caregivers who watched over her 24 hours a day for weeks.

The baby’s mother, who had Ebola, died in childbirth, the ministry said.

The infant was discharged Wednesday from the treatment center in Beni. “She went home in the arms of her father and her aunt,” the ministry said.

 

Ebola, baby
Health workers treat an unconfirmed Ebola patient, inside a MSF (Doctors Without Borders) supported Ebola Treatment Centre (ETC) in Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nov. 3, 2018. VOA

 

Experts have reported high numbers of children with Ebola in this outbreak, which Congo’s health ministry says has 515 cases, 467 of them confirmed, including 255 confirmed deaths.

 

The tiny survivor is named Benedicte. In video footage shared by UNICEF, she is shown in an isolated treatment area, cradled in the arms of health workers in protective gear or cuddled by Ebola survivors, called “nounous,” who can go without certain gear such as masks. The survivors are crucial with their reassuring presence, the health ministry said.

“This is my first child,” her father, Thomas, said. “I truly don’t want to lose her. She is my hope.” He gazed at his baby daughter through the clear protective plastic.

Infected children

Children now account for more than one-third of all cases in this outbreak, UNICEF said earlier this week. One in 10 Ebola cases is in a child under 5 years old, it said, and children who contract the hemorrhagic fever are at greater risk of dying than adults.

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A health care worker carries a cross next to a coffin with a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 13, 2018. VOA

While Ebola typically infects adults, as they are most likely to be exposed to the lethal virus, children have been known in some instances to catch the disease when they act as caregivers.

Few cases of Ebola in babies have historically been reported, but experts suspect transmission might happen via breast milk or close contact with infected parents. Ebola is typically spread by infected bodily fluids.

The World Health Organization also has noted that health centers have been identified as a source of Ebola transmission in this outbreak, with injections of medications “a notable cause.”

Dangerous conditions

So far, more than 400 children have been left orphaned or unaccompanied in this outbreak as patients can spend weeks in treatment centers, UNICEF said. A kindergarten has opened next to one treatment center in Beni “to assist the youngest children whose parents are isolated” there, it said.

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Marie-Roseline Darnycka Belizaire, World Health Organization (WHO) Epidemiology Team Lead, talks to women as part of Ebola contact tracing, in Mangina, Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA

Health experts have said this Ebola outbreak, the 10th in Congo, is like no other as they face the threat of attack from armed groups and resistance from a wary population in a region that had never faced an Ebola outbreak before. Tracking suspected contacts of Ebola victims remains a challenge in areas controlled by rebels.

Also Read: Women Hit Especially Hard In Congo’s Worst Ebola Outbreak

The latest WHO assessment, released Thursday, simply calls the circumstances “unforgiving.”

And now, Congo is set to hold a presidential election Dec. 23, with unrest already brewing. (VOA)