The year ahead: Will government strategies keep Uganda epidemic free?

Uganda will be declared Ebola free by January 11, 2023, should there be no new cases reported since November 2022. Ministry of Health spokesperson Emmanuel Ainebyoona, is quoted as stating that all Ebola and Covid-19 isolation centres in the country have not had a single case or admission for more than three weeks. World Health Organisation guidelines stipulate that a country is declared Ebola-free if it does not register a new case for at least 42 days after the last confirmed case is discharged from hospital reports the Daily Monitor.

According to a situation report published by Relief Web, December 28 marked 101 days since the country launched its response to the EVD outbreak and 29 days since the last confirmed case. The report further indicates that within the past 24 hours, there has been no new confirmed case or death registered and no recovery. “Case Fatality Ratio among confirmed cases still stands 55/142 (39%). No active contacts are currently under follow-up,” reads the situation report.

The Government of Uganda declared an outbreak of the Sudan Ebola Virus disease in the central district of Mubende District on 20 September 2022. This followed the death of a 24-year-old man who was the index case, developing symptoms and later succumbing on September 19. The government took measures to curb the spread of the virus, declaring the first lockdown on 15 October 2022. The lockdown, affecting the Mubende and Kassandra districts, prevented anyone, except cargo trucks, from leaving or entering the districts for three weeks. Bars, nightclubs, places of worship and entertainment venues were closed, and a curfew put in place.

On 17 October 2022, President Yoweri Museveni put Kampala under high response alert after two cases from Mubende reached the capital. One of the patients died. Museveni also warned that there had been contacts and risks of infections in the city. The measures to curb the spread were extended on 5 November 2022 and again on 26 November, and finally lifted on 17 December 2022.

Overall, there have been nine Ugandan districts affected by this outbreak: Bunyangabu, Jinja, Kagadi, Kampala, Kassanda, Kyegegwa, Masaka, Mubende, and Wakiso. Bunyangabu, Kagadi, Kyegegwa and Masaka have completed two incubation cycles of the virus without reporting any cases.

This strain of outbreaks have previously occurred four times in Uganda, the last outbreak being in 2012. 

On 8 December 2020, the Ministry of Health announced that 1,200 doses of vaccine have arrived in the country which will be used in the Tokomeza Ebola vaccine trial. This is the first batch of one of three vaccine candidates. According to the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the doses that have arrived are Sabin’s vaccine and they will make another 8,500 doses available to WHO on a rolling basis through January, reports indicate.

In an interview with Daily Monitor, the Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng states that the government strategy going forward will be engaging the public to raise awareness to slow outbreaks in the country she says is prone to disease outbreaks. “Every year we respond to outbreaks. The most important thing moving forward is to completely provide information to the population,” Aceng states in her interview. “Epidemics occur in the community and end in the community. Whether it is Ebola, Marburg, Malaria or Covid, they all start from the community and one of the measures the ministry is taking is promoting community health education on disease outbreaks and how they can quickly detect them, and also how to respond in the event that they occur,” she says.

The latest Ebola virus outbreak in Uganda comes only months since the country came out of a high alert incidence of the global Covid-19 pandemic. The WHO reports that since January 3, 2020 to 23 December 2022, there have been 169,715 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 3,630 deaths, reported in Uganda and as of 17 December 2022, a total of 26,299,538 vaccine doses have been administered.

The country’s Health ministry states that there are still Covid-19 cases in Mukono and Kampala with mild symptoms under home care. The ministry attributes the successes so far to vigilance by Ugandans and vaccination which they say has protected those who were inoculated from getting the disease since it reduces the chances of getting the infection and also alleviates the symptoms once the person gets the virus.

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