Security and immigration officials at Lia border point along the Uganda-DRC border in Arua district were on Thursday 'left surprised' after the Health minister Ruth Aceng visited the area but declined to talk to them.
Aceng together with the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti made an emergency visit to Arua following the death of a woman from Ebola in Ariwara town, DRC.
However, on arrival at Lia customs border point, Aceng proceeded with her team to the Ombayi checkpoint on the DRC side and took a photo with the WHO and health officials without getting a briefing from the immigration and security officials, who are currently ill-equipped and struggling to screen for Ebola at Lia.
Lia border point is 12 kilometres to Ariwara town in DRC. The Lia customs officials and security team, who were not informed of the minister’s visit, were left puzzled after the minister’s entourage left the customs point without hearing from the officials. One of the senior immigration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity threatened to abandon work if the screening equipment is not provided.
"You need to have your ears on the ground because of what is happening here. We’re the people on ground, how are they handling us, what is the response? All those questions…she doesn’t want to entertain questions. For me I take charge of my own health, the moment it worsens I will just desert and takeoff …even us here were fearing, somebody died all the way from here. Already here is terrible, for us were surviving on nothing." he said.
A police officer manning security at Lia customs border point says that he was shocked to see a convoy of vehicles arrive at speed at the customs but was further shocked to see no one talk to him before dashing to DRC side for a photograph.
“Up to now, I don’t know who those people are and I wonder why they ignore us. I thought they would first sign, listen to us and later escort them to our counterparts on the DRC side” said the police officer.
But on arrival at Lia customs border point, Aceng says that she was happy that there is free movement of people and goods across the border points.
"We cannot be screening in this kind of environment, no. Because as I was coming, we were asking are these Congolese? Do they cross over? I asked whose goats are these, are they Congolese or Ugandan goats. It is difficult, now we have to be very innovative in our minds." said Aceng.
The minister’s team together with World Health Organization, district health officials later attended an Ebola assessment meeting at Desert Breeze hotel in Arua with West Nile districts LCV chairpersons.