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Vaccination offers hope in face of Ebola terror

An Ebola outbreak in DR Congo has nudged Ugandan authorities to consider what was previously unthinkable: vaccination of all people at risk.

Jolted last week by about 250 confirmed cases of Ebola — causing an estimated 180 deaths in the DR Congo, Uganda’s ministry of Health announced the start of the Ebola vaccination. Approximately 2,000 health care and front-line workers along our border with DRC will receive the experimental vaccine.

Uganda has no confirmed cases of Ebola, but in the face of the new ominous threat from DRC, the preventive measure is welcome news given the heavy cross-border traffic.

The ring vaccination drive, which is a “new and vital tool in the control of Ebola,” underscores how seriously authorities here are taking the ever-persistent Ebola threat in Congo and the dangers it poses to Uganda.

According to official statistics, more than 20,000 people cross from the DRC to Uganda daily. This density of human beings escalates the risk of cross-border transmission of Ebola.

The vaccination, a first of its kind in Uganda, offers hope and a practical solution to the recurrent threat of Ebola outbreaks in Congo.

This vaccination is a bold break from the years of haphazard handling of Ebola threats, which usually set off panic, confusion and finger-pointing.

In the past, news of an Ebola outbreak in DR Congo would be met with a wait-and-see approach by authorities here as panic set off in the general public.

And usually, without strong interventions, the viral disease would quickly leap across our western border with the Congo and outrun the slow response from Ugandan authorities, leaving many lost souls in its wake.

Gladly, Kampala, working with global partners, has adopted a viable quick response mechanism to haemorrhagic fevers, including the equally nasty Marburg.

In a statement last week, the ministry announced that active search for suspected cases continues in all communities and that alert cases continue to be picked, isolated, treated and blood samples transmitted for testing at the Uganda Virus Research Institute.

Infection prevention and control (IPC) training has been conducted in all the vulnerable five districts of Kabarole, Bunyangabu, Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko. Case management and surveillance trainings have ultimately been conducted in seven districts including Wakiso and Kampala.

Like we said in past editorials, this sort of response is very laudable and demonstrates that we have learnt hard lessons from past stumbles in government’s handling of disease outbreaks, more so the 2014-16 epidemic, which exacted a heavy toll in West Africa, killing hundreds of health-care workers.

A proactive approach, always, will help diminish the Ebola threat.

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