It seems like a normal day in Mubende, central Uganda. Shops remain open, children are in school and public gatherings are allowed, provided people remain socially distancing.
The ambulances rushing past every few hours and the health workers meticulously washing themselves before going home are the only indications that things are not normal in the densely populated mining district, which is struggling to contain an Ebola outbreak. to contain.
Twenty-nine people, including four health workers, have died since the outbreak was declared in the district on September 20, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed on Wednesday.
Among them was Mohammed Ali, a 37-year-old Tanzanian doctor who worked at Mubende Hospital and who had operated on a patient who later tested positive for the virus. Six more health workers have been infected, bringing the total number of reported cases in five sub-counties to 63.
“We’re scared, but there’s nothing we can do,” said Kesande Pamela, who runs a shop in downtown Mubende. “I have to keep my shop open and make money. We have information and we try to keep it safe. We hope for the best.”
On Wednesday, Yoweri Museveni, the country’s president, told Ugandans the outbreak was under control. “The government has the capacity to control this outbreak, as we have done before. Therefore, there is no reason for fear, panic, restriction of movement or unnecessary closure of public places,” he said in a televised speech.
dr. However, Christopher Mambula, MSF program manager in Uganda, said the situation was “very serious”. The number of cases was increasing daily and it was still unclear how widely the virus had spread, he said, adding that the lack of a vaccine to treat the Ebola strain responsible for the outbreak – the Sudan virus – was a concern.
Vaccines that have been used to successfully contain recent Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are ineffective against the Sudan virus. The WHO said several vaccines are in different stages of development, two of which could begin clinical trials in Uganda in the coming weeks.
“In terms of the contacts and the spread, if you split into five [regions]or more than one place, it begs the question what is the chain of transmission between those different cases, is it one person infecting other people or was it that there was something like a super spreading event, like a funeral, where not just one person infected hit, but several,” said Mambula.
“Until we get the indication otherwise, I would say this is very serious,” he said. “The reality is especially when you look at the incubation period, which is generally up to three weeks, it’s possible to go a week without seeing a case and then all of a sudden 50 cases come in one day.
“It is still very early and it seems that it is increasing and not decreasing. As of today, there’s nothing to say it’s under control.”
Health professionals have also said they are concerned that the disease could spread to refugee camps. Mubende, about a three-hour drive from the capital Kampala, lies along a highway to DRC. Several refugee camps line this route, housing at least 200,000 of Uganda’s 1.5 million refugees.
The WHO has given $2 million from its emergency fund and is sending “additional specialists, supplies and resources” to help Uganda’s health ministry contain the virus, which is spread through contact with blood and body fluids. Médecins Sans Frontières has set up a treatment center at Mubende hospital and plans to open another in nearby Madudu sub-province, the center of the outbreak.
Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng this week called for increased international support. “The efforts made so far are important but need to be stepped up if we are to end this epidemic today,” she said. “I am counting on all of you to mobilize more resources in your respective capacities to end the Ebola pandemic in our country.”
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the African Union, said Uganda will host a ministerial meeting next week with neighboring countries and other African countries that have experienced Ebola outbreaks to explore ways to control them.
This is the first outbreak of the Sudanese Ebola strain in Uganda since 2012. The country is still struggling with the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, which forced schools to close for almost two years.