Response to the Ebola epidemic in Uganda moves forward

The response to the Ebola epidemic that broke out at the end of July in Western Uganda is moving forward thanks to the joint effort of MSF, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and other bodies. In approximately one week, the MSF emergency team has set up an Ebola treatment centre, has isolated the patients that have contracted the virus from suspected cases and has implemented a protection system for the health staff, the most vulnerable group in these types of outbreaks.

So far, 17 people have died due to the epidemic whose epicentre is the Ugandan district of Kibaale. Nine patients are admitted in the treatment centre within the Kagadi hospital premises. Of them, two Ebola cases have been confirmed and the rest are under observation and awaiting the results of the tests undertaken. The good news is that last week about twenty people were discharged, including a woman that contracted Ebola, recovered and is now ready to return home.

“The fight to contain the epidemic is a complex process, but the fact that hospital admissions are decreasing suggests that transmission is happening at a low level,” says Paul Roddy, MSF epidemiologist. “So far, the outbreak has reached a 27% fatality ratio.”

In order to control the epidemic, the medical organisation has built a close collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Health (MoH) and other actors such as the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the Ugandan Red Cross and the World Health Organisation (WHO). One of the challenges is the provision of psychosocial support to the patients and their families. MSF is working with the authorities to avoid rejection within the communities when patients return home.

“A man and three of his children had been admitted but the lab confirmed they were not suffering from Ebola,” said Segimon Garcia, an information, communication and education officer. “A MoH psychosocial team spoke with the neighbours of this family to explain to them that they did not have Ebola. On the 6th, the family returned home on a MSF vehicle together with psychologists in order to guarantee a proper reception.”

Ebola is a virus that was detected for the first time in humans in 1976 in Zaire, the former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There is neither treatment nor vaccination for it and its mortality rate within the affected population varies based on the strain and other factors such as genetic susceptibility and simultaneous diseases. Notwithstanding this fact, many people manage to survive to this haemorrhagic fever transmitted through body fluids. Raising awareness amongst the communities where epidemics break out is essential to prevent patients and their families from being stigmatised.