By Gabriel-Eddie Njoroge

The corps of health workers and health ministry officials in western Uganda were commended for their sharp preparedness response to Ebola outbreak by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.

“I commend Uganda for its quick response to the Ebola outbreak,” Dr. Moeti said. “During my visit to the Kasese area, I spoke with health authorities who told me how the training they had received in detecting the disease meant they were on high alert for patients with any signs of infection. They were able to move swiftly when the first Ebola cases arrived in their health facility and to restrict possible exposure to relatively few health workers.”

Dr. Moeti toured the Kasese border area with the Minister of Health of Uganda, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, who thanked WHO for the support the organization has provided both in preparing the country for Ebola and in responding to the recent confirmed cases.

“WHO has provided crucial support to Uganda in fighting Ebola,” said Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng. “I am glad to see how my teams on the ground have responded quickly and effectively.”

Prime Minister, Right Honorable Ruhakana Rugunda also expressed his commitment to the Ebola response during a meeting with Dr. Moeti and senior governmental officials in Kampala.

Since 11 June, when Uganda declared the Ebola virus disease outbreak, there have been three confirmed cases, all of whom had travelled to the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR.C). Uganda shares a nearly 900-kilometre long, often porous border with the DR.C, where the disease has claimed more than 1400 lives since August 2018.

More than 100 people who had contacts with the confirmed cases are being monitored. Since the outbreak was declared, 1063 high risk individuals have been vaccinated. This vaccination of contacts and contacts of contacts, known as ring vaccination, has showed good results in the DR.C and other countries in West Africa. There are currently no new, confirmed cases of Ebola in Uganda.

During her two-day visit, Dr. Moeti travelled to Bwera Hospital, near the border with the DR.C where two of the three people who had the infection had died. A further three suspected cases are being treated at the hospital. Due to its investment into preparedness, the hospital can now obtain presumptive results to tests for the Ebola Zaire strain within two hours.

With support from WHO and partners, Uganda has trained more than 16 000 community leaders and volunteers in remote border areas to spot the symptoms, provide medical attention to potential patients and to alert the authorities. The local teams serve as the eyes and ears of the district and national emergency systems that cover surveillance, infection prevention and control, patient care, cross-border activities and coordination with communities.

“People are aware of the problem, how to protect themselves and where to report for action and support,” Dr. Moeti pointed out.

Cross-border surveillance and collaboration between Uganda and DRC health authorities facilitated the early detection and response in Kasese where the cases were confirmed. Rapid reporting by DRC counterparts led to the easy tracing of the cases by Ugandan health authorities.

Since the first outbreak in the DRC in 2018, Uganda has trained more than 9000 of its health workers to spot the signs of Ebola and vaccinated nearly 5000 of them against the disease.

“The cost of preparedness is cheaper than response,” Dr. Moeti added at the conclusion of her visit, adding donors and partners in her praise of the extensive preparedness activities. “It is the contribution of donors that has enabled us to help countries prepare and, as we have seen in Uganda, prevent the tragedy of an outbreak escalating to unimaginable numbers.”