By Halima Athumani
Uganda is carrying out anti-Ebola vaccination targeting 2,000 health and frontline workers in five districts neighboring the Democratic Republic of Congo. They include Kabarole, Bunyangabo, Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo.
Uganda’s Ministry of Health estimates that every week over 20,000 people cross in and out of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is battling the worst Ebola outbreak.
At the River Lamia border crossing point in Bundibugyo district, Mutegeki John, a team leader with the Uganda Red Cross, tells Anadolu Agency: “We screen everyone who comes from Congo, we educate them about how far Ebola has spread and ensure they decontaminate and advise them on how to keep safe.”
Uganda has no confirmed case of the Ebola virus disease. But authorities have increased prevention measures to control the virus that has since Aug.1 killed about 198 people in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
Announcing the roll out of the anti-Ebola vaccine, Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s minister for health, said: “The public health risk of cross border transmission of Ebola to Uganda was assessed to be very high at the national level.”
The trial vaccine has been used in Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Uganda has good reason to heighten its awareness and prevention measures.
In August 2007, Ugandan health officials and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention battled a disease they only got to confirm was Ebola three months later. By December 2007, 149 people had been infected with 37 deaths including health workers.
Among the infected in Bundibugyo was Kuule Samuel, a health worker, who contracted the disease as he treated his brother, also a health worker, who died of Ebola.
Samuel recalls: "Most patients were passing blood in urine, stool, high fever, severe headache and passing blood through the nose.”
After the Ministry of Health set up an isolation center at Bundibugyo Hospital, Samuel’s blood sample was the first to be taken for testing. “I did not know I would survive, because it was my blood sample that told the nation that it was Ebola.”
Samuel is not the only survivor. Francis Muhindo, a clinical officer at Karugutu Health Center in Ntoroko district, was among the health workers who moved around collecting infected persons.
The day he went to pick Samuel and other patients from the Kikyo Health Center was the same evening Uganda announced that the strange disease was Ebola.
“I felt bad. Some of my colleagues were already admitted because they presented measles like symptoms, I got so scared but I had to wait for my fate,” Muhindo said.
“Fortunately I had not contracted the disease, because my colleagues who contracted the disease actually died,” he added.
Muhindo is looking forward to the anti-Ebola vaccine. "I am going to get the vaccine today. The threat is that anytime, anybody can contract it from Congo... So, after getting the vaccine I have no problem handling patients."
Uganda’s strict measures are still being tested considering many citizens have to cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo to trade such as Jane Biira.
Biira a trader at Butogo town has to cross into Congo at least twice a week to buy food and charcoal. “We have heard the disease is there but, we have to go out and trade.”
She adds: “It’s scary, but when we go to Congo we don’t shake hands with residents, and when we get back into Uganda we get screened by the health workers.”
Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have battled the worst Ebola outbreak with some 300 confirmed cases. So far, 27,000 health workers have been vaccinated but efforts to contain the virus are hampered by armed groups who attack workers.