Monday 17 June 2019

Another Ebola patient dies in Uganda as deadly outbreak spreads beyond DRC

  • New Ebola cases in Uganda raise fears of spread beyond Congo
  • Uganda has three confirmed cases from a single family
  • Boy, 5, who entered from Congo has died, two others sick
  • Uganda seen as well-prepared to tackle disease - but fears of spread to more vulnerable neighbours rising
  • Violence hampers efforts in eastern Congo epicentre
  • Current Ebola epidemic began in August last year in eastern Congo and has already infected at least 2,062 people, killing 1,390 of them
Ugandan medical staff are seen as they inspect the ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
Ugandan medical staff are seen as they inspect the ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
Police operate a checkpoint at the border crossing near Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
People crossing the border have their temperature taken to check for symptoms of Ebola, at the border crossing near Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
Local residents wash clothes in the shallow Lubiriha River, an area that is popular with those who want to cross into Uganda without passing through the official border crossing, in Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across the border from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
People crossing the border have their temperature taken to check for symptoms of Ebola, at the border crossing near Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
World Health Organization (WHO) officials talk to Ugandan medical staff as they inspect ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
People are seen in the courtyard as Ugandan medical staff inspect the ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
Health workers dressed in Ebola protective suits are seen as they prepare an ebola preparedness facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
World Health Organization (WHO) officials talk to Ugandan medical staff as they inspect ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo

Elias Biryabarema and Kate Kelland

Another Ebola patient has died in Uganda, bringing the death toll to two, a health ministry official has confirmed.

Uganda announced two more cases of Ebola on Wednesday - a grandmother and a three-year-old boy, confirming that a deadly outbreak has spread for the first time beyond the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Police operate a checkpoint at the border crossing near Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
Police operate a checkpoint at the border crossing near Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

The Ugandan cases show the epidemic is entering a "truly frightening" phase and could kill many more people, one infectious disease specialist told Reuters.

A five-year-old boy who had crossed into Uganda from Congo died late on Tuesday, said Uganda's health minister, Jane Ruth Aceng, and his family were now being monitored in isolation.

Local residents wash clothes in the shallow Lubiriha River, an area that is popular with those who want to cross into Uganda without passing through the official border crossing, in Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across the border from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)
Local residents wash clothes in the shallow Lubiriha River, an area that is popular with those who want to cross into Uganda without passing through the official border crossing, in Kasindi, eastern Congo Wednesday, June 12, 2019, just across the border from the Ugandan town of Bwera. (AP Photo/Al-hadji Kudra Maliro)

The two new victims were the boy's brother and grandmother, the Ugandan Health Ministry said. His grandfather had recently died of Ebola.

Uganda plans to repatriate the two patients with Ebola to Congo, saying they can get better treatment in specialised facilities there. Three more family members, who are so far healthy, will also be repatriated, a health ministry spokesman said. The family must consent to all repatriations, he said.

"This epidemic is in a truly frightening phase and shows no sign of stopping," said Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, which is involved in fighting Ebola.

"We can expect and should plan for more cases in DRC and neighbouring countries," he said, adding: "There are now more deaths than any other Ebola outbreak in history, bar the West Africa epidemic of 2013-16, and there can be no doubt that the situation could escalate towards those terrible levels."

World Health Organization (WHO) officials talk to Ugandan medical staff as they inspect ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
World Health Organization (WHO) officials talk to Ugandan medical staff as they inspect ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo

The current Ebola epidemic began in August last year in eastern Congo and has already infected at least 2,062 people, killing 1,390 of them.

The West Africa epidemic infected 28,000 people and killed 11,300, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

People are seen in the courtyard as Ugandan medical staff inspect the ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
People are seen in the courtyard as Ugandan medical staff inspect the ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo

The viral disease spreads through contact with bodily fluids, causing hemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will reconvene an emergency committee on Friday to decide whether the outbreak is an international public health emergency and how to manage it, a WHO statement said.

Authorities have struggled to contain the disease partly because health workers have been repeatedly attacked in conflict-ravaged eastern Congo, the epicentre of the outbreak.

This year, the WHO has documented 174 attacks on health care workers and facilities in Congo, causing 5 deaths and 51 injuries of health care workers and patients, Geneva-based spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters on Wednesday.

Health workers dressed in Ebola protective suits are seen as they prepare an ebola preparedness facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
Health workers dressed in Ebola protective suits are seen as they prepare an ebola preparedness facility at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo

There is widespread public mistrust of the Congo government and health workers from outside the region, giving rise to rumours that the disease is a ruse to try to rig elections in the area, where dozens of armed groups operate.

Other rumours accuse health teams of spreading the disease. Many victims have sought treatment with traditional healers instead.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials talk to Ugandan medical staff as they inspect ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo
World Health Organization (WHO) officials talk to Ugandan medical staff as they inspect ebola preparedness facilities at the Bwera general hospital near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Bwera, Uganda, June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Samuel Mambo

Uganda, which has been on high alert for a possible spread of Ebola and has already vaccinated many frontline health workers, is relatively well prepared to contain the virus. WHO is bringing in 3,500 additional vaccines and will begin vaccinating more people on Friday.

"The current cases in Uganda will be quickly contained but the failure to stop the current Ebola epidemic in DRC is simply tragic," said Ian Jones, a professor virology at Britain's Reading University.

Eastern Congo also borders South Sudan, which is struggling to emerge from five years of devastating civil war and whose health facilities are basic even in the capital. "We are deeply concerned for countries such as South Sudan that do not have the infrastructure to handle an outbreak," Whitney Elmer, Congo country director at aid group Mercy Corps.

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