There is a high risk of Ebola outbreak in Uganda as hundreds of citizens crossed the Congolese-Ugandan border last July to engage in economic opportunities.
The Ebola scare is coming one year after the beginning of its outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where the disease continues to affect highly mobile communities along the Ugandan border at major transit hubs.
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Uganda EVD Health Coordinator, Dr. Patrick Kaliika, said “there is a risk Ebola may cross into Uganda, but efforts at entry points are helping us to prevent the spread of the disease. Despite the outbreak in DRC it is important that people can continue to move, trade and seek refuge freely.”
According to the IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), the majority of people (roughly 40 per cent) crossed the Congolese-Ugandan border last month to engage in economic opportunities. Others crossed over to visit family or buy goods.
The highest number of movements tracked by DTM occurred at the border point adjacent to Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak and an area suffering from conflict and displacement.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is however, urging that borders should not be closed and no restrictions on trade be made when recently declaring the outbreak in DRC a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
IOM and partners are accelerating prevention efforts at more than 64 border crossing points – also called Points of Entry (POEs) – in Western Uganda.
An epidemiologist with Uganda’s Ministry of Health, Ayebale Apolo, said “prevention is better than cure so the approach of monitoring and preparing is crucial for Uganda. Through collaboration with partners I can confidently say we are prepared if another case appears here.”
He joined six other officials from IOM, WHO and the Government of Uganda last week in a joint monitoring mission to assess the effectiveness of current POE sites. In the next six months, these organisations will train health, immigration, security, customs and other officials on how to ensure border control during humanitarian and health emergencies.
IOM currently operates 20 POE screening sites in southwestern Uganda and supports districts and national authorities to monitor and mentor operations in seven districts along the border with DRC.
Health workers encourage travellers to wash their hands to prevent transmission and each person is screened for symptoms – including a temperature check. If teams suspect a traveller may be infected, they are transferred to the designated health facility for further assessment and care.
Three cases of Ebola surfaced in Kasese District in Uganda in June, after three infected travellers crossed the border together from DRC. Since then, a new POE site has been established in Kasese and contacts were vaccinated. There are no current cases of Ebola in Uganda.
Continuing, Kaliika said, “IOM hopes this border health project not only better prepares the country to stop the spread of Ebola but also other diseases that are likely to become more prominent in transit hubs.”
This initiative falls in line with WHO’s Regional Strategic Plan for EVD Operational Readiness and Preparedness as well as the Uganda National EVD Preparedness Plan. It is supported by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
The Organisation also manages 83 screening sites at areas of high transit in DRC and 15 POE sites at border points near high-risk areas in South Sudan.