Uganda Shares Experience As Ebola Ravages West Africa

Another 759 cases have been recorded since June 20, according to official World Health Organisation (WHO) figures. Among the dead is a Ugandan doctor Samuel Muhumuza Mutooro who was working with WHO. Yet in Uganda, the last outbreak in 2012 killed four people out of seven cases recorded in Luweero district.

The minister for Health, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, says that when Ebola first hit Uganda in 2000, the country learnt to manage it, leading to successful handling of outbreaks in Bundibugyo, Kabale and Luweero.

“Uganda has gained experience, expertise and capacity to diagnose the disease,” Rugunda said at the Uganda Media Centre yesterday.

“In the past we would send specimen to Atlanta in USA for testing but now we developed capacity to diagnose the disease within the country to respond quickly. It is because of this experience that WHO asked us to send a technical team to work closely with the affected countries to combat the outbreak.”

Rukia Nakamatte, the ministry of Health spokesperson, told The Observer that Uganda has managed to contain Ebola in the past by embracing a multi-sectoral approach.

“We have very good surveillance systems. Every day, we receive reports from all health facilities in this country. If a case is suspected, then we know and detect early, send a team to investigate and then respond. That is why the size of the outbreak has reduced,” she explained.

Nakamatte added that investigation is quicker now with a laboratory at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, which can confirm Ebola within 24 hours.

“The moment we confirm, we have capacity at the district and national level to start the strategy of controlling the outbreaks,” she said.

Besides, the ministry of Health uses media, local leaders, religious leaders and political leaders to get their communities to help in the effort. As a result, people can report suspicious illnesses in their communities and families understand the need to stay away from relatives who may have Ebola, on top of allowing burials to be handled by health officials.

“I suspect the problem [in West Africa] is with social mobilisation, management and following cases. I cannot speak with authority that that is the problem but I can say what we have done through mobilisation. It has nothing to do with medical expertise because all people there (doctors in West Africa) are experts. We have worked with them and some have been our superiors. What is failing is breaking the transmission chain,” she says.

Witch doctors:

When the first case of Ebola broke out in Pujeh, a forested village in Sierra Leone, the community’s first reaction was to visit witchdoctors. They believed it was a curse, which the medicine men would wish away. After the witchdoctors caught the disease themselves, they became vehicles of Ebola, spreading it to the next client and the next.

Epidemiological analysis conducted by WHO reveals that transmission is facilitated by g cultural practices and traditional beliefs in the densely populated peri-urban areas of Conakry in Guinea and Monrovia in Liberia, and parts of Sierra Leone.

In the border areas of these countries, families continue to keep dead bodies for several days, performing burial rituals including touching the deceased. Other people believe Ebola is a creation of their government to divert attention away from other pressing local issues.

Due to such widespread misconceptions, some parents have refused to have their children tested for the virus, saying that the syringes contain the Ebola virus. When some patients are hospitalised, their families break into hospitals and take them home, hoping to cure the ‘fever’ through prayers.

On June 30, Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, issued a warning on state radio that anyone suspected of holding onto Ebola patients at home or in churches would be prosecuted. The minister of state for Health, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, was this week in Accra, Ghana, with a team of Ugandan medical experts. The officials attended a two-day summit called to discuss ways to arresting the outbreak, which has ravaged West Africa and could spread beyond.

Other countries represented were, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Senegal. At the Media Centre in Kampala, Dr Rugunda assured Ugandans that there is no single case recorded in the country at the moment.

“The ministry has informed all boarder points to intensify disease surveillance check points, especially for people coming in from the affected areas,” he said. “The public should limit their travels to affected countries until the situation is contained. Those with relatives in affected countries should keep on alert in case their relatives return to Uganda,” Rugunda added.

Ebola is a highly contagious and deadly viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) caused by a virus of the filoviridae family. Ebola was first identified in 1976, following a severe outbreak in DR Congo that claimed at least 250 lives. Ebola is believed to be hosted by the fruit bat, a delicacy in Guinea and Liberia.

A recent study reported that 26.6 per cent of fruit bats from DR Congo were positive for Ebola virus. The virus has a case fatality rate of up to 90 per cent. The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids like sweat, saliva and tissues of infected animals or people.

There is no vaccine or treatment currently available for Ebola. It is managed through rehydration of the body.

Source : The Observer

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