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Uganda gears up to contain Ebola epidemic as fears of spread cause panic

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e5210 (Published 01 August 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5210
  1. Henry Wasswa
  1. 1Kampala

Ugandan health authorities are grappling with a new Ebola epidemic that has killed 14 people since the beginning of July, mainly in a district in the west of the country.

The disease is reported to have spread to the capital Kampala after one of the victims is thought to have died in a national referral hospital near the city.

Health officials are saying that they have contained the disease and maintain that the country, which has had three outbreaks of Ebola since 2000, has the capacity to stem it.

The health ministry says that a health worker is among the 14 people who have died. Seven other suspected cases have been isolated in a hospital in the western region and 34 health workers, including seven doctors, who were in contact with the dead, have been quarantined and are under surveillance.

In an address to the nation on 30 July President Yoweri Museveni said, “In case someone dies from what you suspect to be Ebola, please do not take the job of burying him or her; call the medical workers to be the ones to do it. In the meantime, avoid shaking hands.”

Panic spread among the public after media reports announced cases of “strange diseases” killing people.

A semi-official radio, Bukedde FM, reported that seven people have died in the past two weeks in a village about 20 kilometres south east of Kampala. The health minister said that a team had been sent to investigate the cause of the deaths.

Ebola first hit Uganda in 2000 killing 224 people out of more than 400 who were infected. In 2008 about 40 people died of Ebola close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last year, a 12 year old girl also died of the disease but there were no other cases.

The World Health Organization representative in Uganda, Joachim Saweka, told the BMJ that the country has the capacity to contain the Ebola outbreak.

“Uganda has a strong system and capacity on the ground which can control the disease because it has been developed from a long time. What is needed is strengthening the surveillance and response in time,” he said.

Teams of experts from WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control are helping Uganda to contain the Ebola virus and investigate the cause of the latest outbreak.

People have been urged to report any suspected cases to nearby clinics, avoid funerals and public gatherings, and to avoid eating dead animals, especially monkeys.

“People who have died of Ebola must be handled with strong protective gear. Burials of suspicious community deaths must be handled under close supervision of district health officials,” the health ministry said.

The Uganda Red Cross has sent a team of 100 volunteers to Kibaale district to help monitor and isolate people who have been in contact with those who have died.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5210