The first cross-border cases in this Ebola outbreak has prompted a World Health Organization expert committee to meet on Friday to discuss whether to declare a global health emergency or not. Such declarations almost always boost attention and donor funding.
Uganda health ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Ainebyoona confirmed the death of a 50-year-old woman overnight. Her 5-year-old grandson was the first confirmed death from Ebola in Uganda on Wednesday. The boy’s 3-year-old brother is infected as well.
Congo’s health ministry has said that all the members of the Congolese-Ugandan family have agreed to be repatriated to Congo for experimental treatments as part of clinical trials. There is no licensed treatment for the hemorrhagic fever which can spread quickly via close contact with bodily fluids of those infected and can be fatal in up to 90 per cent of cases. More than 1,400 people have died in this outbreak in Eastern Congo, which is one of the world’s most turbulent regions.
For months, officials have feared that the virus would cross the heavily traveled Congo-Uganda border, where health workers have been screening millions of people for fever and other symptoms. Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan have been preparing for possible cases.
Authorities in both countries now vow to step up border security. Uganda has now identified seven suspected Ebola cases, and about 50 contacts of the family are being traced there. Five family members who did not cross into Uganda have tested positive for Ebola, Congo’s health ministry said.
Health teams in Uganda “are not panicking,” Henry Mwebesa, the national director of health services said on Wednesday. He cited the East African nation’s experience battling previous outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers. This outbreak “is not going to go beyond” the boy’s family in Uganda, he added.
For the first time an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine is being widely used, with more than 132,000 in Congo receiving it.
Uganda is more stable than eastern Congo, and it has vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers. WHO is shipping another 3,500 doses this week for health workers and contacts of those infected.