By Peter Oliver Ochieng
The Ministry of Health (MOH) in Kenya has heightened screening at the Busia and Malaba border points, two weeks after an outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in neighbouring Uganda. Over 36 cases have been reported, claiming over 20 lives, according to Ugandan media reports.
Truck drivers and passengers coming in from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and of course Uganda have to undergo surveillance as Kenyan authorities upscale measures aimed at preventing an Ebola outbreak in the country.
According to Dr. Melsa Lutomia, the Acting Chief Officer for Health and Sanitation at the County Government of Busia, the screening is part of broader measures already put in place by the Kenyan authorities to shield Kenyans from the deadly virus.
She says once a truck driver or passenger arrives at the border, Port Health officers are on standby to take the temperature using a thermo gun and a thermo scanner. “Ebola first presents higher fever in addition to the other signs and symptoms like headache, muscle pains, diarrhea and vomiting, cold, sore throat and eventually bleeding,” she said.
If a traveler’s temperature is above 37.8 degrees Celsius, he or she is put in a holding room at the border for some time before the process is repeated. If it remains the same after three measurements, the person will have to be taken in at the Alupe Hospital, where a 60-bed capacity isolation Centre has been set up.
The holding room at the Busia border point has a five-bed capacity. “So far, over 5, 000 people have been screened at the Busia and Malaba border points. So far, we have not had a case that is suggestive of Ebola,” added Dr. Lutomia.
If the temperature is below 37.8 degrees Celsius, the driver or passenger is allowed to proceed with the journey after filling a traveler’s surveillance form. The information needed include name, identification or passport number, town of departure, destination and the expected length of stay in Kenya.
About 80-200 people are screened at the Busia border point on a daily basis. Dr. Lutomia said they continue to prepare to tackle a case of Ebola, in case it is reported at the border county. “We are ably prepared in case of an outbreak. We have already distributed fact sheets on Ebola viral disease to health care workers in the County so that they are aware of transmission, prevention and case management,” she said.
Other precautionary measures put in place include reactivation of the rapid response teams at the County, Subcounty and hospital levels. Dr. Lutomia said they are developing messages on the Ebola disease, aimed at creating awareness through the media and community meetings, as was the case at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A section of motorbike operators (boda boda riders) led by Samson Akolo want the Kenyan government to close the Kenya-Uganda border for a period of time, so as to prevent the spread of Ebola into Kenya. “We really fear that we may be affected. The government should consider closing the border for a period of time as one of the preventive measures,” he said.
However, truck driver Yakub Hassan said closing the border is not economically viable, advising that everyone takes precaution. “I am from Kisumu headed to DRC. I am not worried that I may end up contracting the Ebola virus, because I am taking the necessary precautions such as washing my hands frequently with soap and clean water,” said the driver.
Mark Oburu, Simba Coach driver plying the Kigali (Rwanda) – Nairobi (Kenya) route said the spread of the Ebola virus has started having a negative impact on the transport sector.
“People are not travelling for fear of contracting Ebola. This bus is a 45-seater and passengers used to occupy it full capacity from Kigali to Nairobi. But as you can see today, I only have 25 passengers,” said the bus driver.
On his part, Lucas Odongo, a Juakali artisan asked both the Uganda and Kenyan authorities to reign in on those using the porous border, to illegally enter the two Countries.
Dr. Lutomia is urging Kenyans to limit unnecessary movement in and out of Uganda so as to minimize the possibility of an outbreak in Kenya. She said suspected cases of Ebola virus can be reported via toll free number 0800 721 009.
Meanwhile, the Kenyan Ministry of Health has listed 20 counties as high risk counties of Ebola and called on citizens to be more vigilant of the symptoms of Ebola virus.
”Members of the public are advised to adhere to preventive public health measures such as handwashing, wearing masks, and social distancing. Avoid touching or burial of dead bodies that have died of unknown causes unless confirmed by health authorities, and avoid contact or eating bush meat especially from monkeys, bats, baboons, gorillas and chimpanzees,” Acting Health Director General Dr. Patrick Amoth said.
Besides Busia, the other counties include: Nakuru, Kiambu, Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Makueni, Taita taveta, Mombasa, Kwale, Kericho, Bungoma, Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Trans Nzoia, West Pokot, Turkana, and Uasin Gishu.