Uganda brushes with Ebola, again

A woman holds up an ebola poster at Isanga village on the Uganda – DRC border.

The essentials: A nine-year old Congolese girl is the latest casualty of the deadly Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The girl, who was travelling with her mother, was singled out and isolated as a possible Ebola patient on Wednesday as they tried crossing the Mpondwe border point into Uganda’s Kasese district. Officials confirmed she passed away on Friday and that her body has been repatriated for a proper burial.

The context: This is Uganda’s second close brush with Ebola. The country recorded its first case and death from the virus back in June, that of a five-year-old boy who had visited his infected grandfather in Goma.  Luckily, health officials were able to limit the virus’ spread then and they are working to do the same now. Officials of the health ministry said there are currently no threats to the larger population. Five people who came in contact with the Congolese girl, including her mother, have been returned to the DRC for treatment.

Meanwhile, the spread of the virus in the DRC shows no signs of slowing despite recent breakthroughs in vaccine trials. There are now about 3,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the country, according to the World Health Organization, and more than 2,000 people have died since August 2018.

The good: Again, Ugandan health officials demonstrated their preparedness to control the spread of Ebola despite having to work in less-than-optimal conditions: porous borders that make it hard to control movement. Luckily, Ugandan authorities believe the nine-year-old did not spread the virus inside Uganda before she was isolated.

The bad: Even after WHO’s emergency declaration on Ebola, the devotion of more resources to the outbreak and the success of two experimental vaccines, the situation in the DRC persists. On top of that, there is a shortage of vaccines delivered to the region, according to WHO officials. Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan continue to be on high alert.

The future: UN chief Antonio Guterres visited the region this week and promised solidarity with Congolese. As bad as it all seems, there are success stories in the DRC, especially out of Goma, a busy hub of 2 million people on the border with Rwanda. The treatments are working in the city and more people are listening to health workers. It remains to be seen if that success can be replicated in rural regions and hot zones and if the virus can eventually be contained in DRC.