Ebola Virus Spreads to Uganda

The Ebola virus has entered Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed that a 5-year-old boy, his 3-year-old brother, and their grandmother have contracted the virus. The 5-year-old boy and his grandmother passed away this week, and the 3-year-old has returned to the DRC with his family. This brings the total number of confirmed infected persons to three, according to NPR.

The boy and his relatives became infected when his mother took him into the DRC from Uganda to visit her father, who was ill. The family subsequently crossed back into Uganda using an unsecured footpath. Doing so allowed the family to evade formal checkpoints where health officials screen millions of travelers since August 2018. Officials are diligently working to increase border security.

Experts have long feared the Ebola virus would spread to neighboring countries due to community resistance and unrest in the region.

Some in the region believe health organizations and their personnel are responsible for the spread of the virus, which has complicated the delivery of medical aid and has resulted in the deaths of medical personnel. The eastern Congo has thus become a challenging region for the WHO and other groups to provide medical interventions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that the spread of the disease is concerning. According to CDC Director Robert Redfield, “This is a sobering development that everyone has been working to avoid, and highlights the complexity of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” The CDC response consists of assisting the staff at the Ministry of Health in Uganda through their office in Kampala and helping the Ministry prepare for an Ebola outbreak in the country.

It is also working with a number of partners including the National Task Force for Epidemic Control, other Ugandan ministries, the US Agency for International Development, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office. The CDC is also actively screening the population for the Ebola virus. Experts have been sent to Uganda to provide technical guidance and subject matter expertise concerning screening, infection control, and vaccination. The country has also vaccinated 4,700 health workers against the virus, according to CapitalFM in Kenya.

Health teams in Uganda are remaining calm. Henry Mwebesa, the national director of Health Services in Uganda, noted that the East African country has experience battling Ebola outbreaks, referring to the country’s history of fighting the virus and other hemorrhagic fevers.

Mwebesa vowed that the outbreak “is not going to go beyond” those currently infected, according to the Washington Post.

The Ebola virus is a rare and deadly virus affecting people and primates. It was first discovered along the Ebola River in what is now the DRC. The virus spreads to people as a result of direct contact through bodily fluids. The virus can enter the body through broken skin or mucous membranes such as the eyes, nose, and mouth.

The Ebola outbreak in the DRC was formally declared on August 1, 2018. As of June 10, there are a total of 2,071 Ebola cases and 1,390 deaths in the DRC. There are now three confirmed cases in Uganda and two deaths. The WHO called an emergency meeting on June 14 to determine whether to declare the Ebola outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This current outbreak that originated in the DRC is the second largest to occur since the disease was first recognized in 1976. Expert committees met twice previously and failed to declare a PHEIC. They determined to avoid the declaration because the disease had not spread to another country. Enacting a PHEIC will allow the WHO and its partners to mount a stronger response, obtain increased access to resources, and attract larger teams of responders to help stop the spread of the virus and provide increased treatment for survivors, according to Science.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.