Ebola: Health Ministry to Begin Ring Vaccination in West Nile, Cites Porous Border as Challenge

Health Minister, Dr Aceng with WHO Uganda Representative Yonas Woldemariam in Arua on Thursday.

The Ministry of Health is appealing for intensive sensitization of communities in West Nile following a confirmed Ebola case in Ariwala, DRC which is 8 kilometres from the Ugandan border of Oudramacaku located in Arua district.

On Thursday, Uganda’s Minister for Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng together with the WHO Country Representative, Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam visited Arua district to assess the preparedness for Ebola response.

On June 11, Uganda declared an outbreak of Ebola in the western district of Kasese which borders with DRC. The confirmed cases were part of a family that had crossed into Uganda from DR Congo. Since then, the country has been on high alert and surveillance for potential Ebola cases has been intensified.

Minister Aceng told reporters in Arua on Thursday that the Ebola case in Ariwala (DRC) which is 8kms from Arua calls for authorities on the Ugandan side to activate response mode.

“It was very important that we come to the ground, interact with the district leadership but also assess the situation to give us a picture of how big the threat is,” she said.

“Knowing very well that there is a market at Ariwala where people from Arua and other districts go for trade and another market in Oudramacaku where the Congolese trade, the danger that occurred in Ariwala is real,” Dr Aceng added.

She said there might be contacts in Uganda who could have been in Ariwala at that time of the Ebola outbreak, which is why it is important for Uganda to remain on alert, assess the situation and respond accordingly.

However, she pointed out the absence of visible entry points at the DRC border with Arua as a challenge to screening people for Ebola.

“It’s so difficult to screen people at the border points. There are no designated entry points. So that means our strength relies in the communities”.

She called for massive sensitization and education of communities including religious leaders, herbalists, witch doctors, opinion leaders and village health teams, to enable effective response.

“Ebola can penetrate from anywhere and can break out from within the district itself”.

As such, the Ministry of Health has instructed that the District (Arua) taskforce to be reactivated and rapid assessment be carried out to allow for information to be shared. Also, the Minister asked that surveillance officers be deployed to share intelligence on the situation.

“We can’t stop markets or schools, but what is important is empowering the communities with information and carrying out surveillance. And being responsible people who give information to the health workers promptly, that there is a potential danger somewhere”

Dr Aceng revealed that within the next one week, the Ministry of Health will begin ring vaccination of frontline workers involved in the Ebola response in Arua district. This exercise has already been undertaken in Kasese district.

“Why we do this is because the health workers are most at risk because the sick people report to the health workers,” she said.

Currently, Uganda does not have any confirmed case of Ebola. All contacts (over 92) have concluded their 21 days of follow up. The Minister described the situation in Kasese as “very good and reassuring”.

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