About 3 weeks ago, it was announced that 3 people in Uganda were infected with Ebola. We had 13 volunteers there at the time. Understandably, people were very concerned. There are few diseases that are as frightening. All of our participants chose to leave the country early. Our location was on the opposite side of the country from this outbreak, so there was no immediate threat. The World Health Organization stated that there was no reason to restrict travel to Uganda, but we felt much more comfortable once everyone had left. I’ve continued to monitor the situation and have read every announcement from the WHO and the Ugandan Ministry of Health. I’m happy to say that there have been no new cases of Ebola in Uganda. In addition the country has mobilized emergency procedures that they have been developing for the past year. Tens of thousands of doses of the new and very effective vaccine have been brought in from Europe. It is reassuring to see the response.
Yesterday I stumbled across a great article on the website The Conversation (read here) by an Ebola specialist at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. The author, Dr. Steven Hatch, was on the front lines of the outbreak of the disease in Liberia a few years ago. He said the following:
Should you worry for your own safety about the spread of cases into Uganda? No, you shouldn’t.
But should you be very concerned by the ongoing outbreak in the DRC? Yes, you should, because of political and cultural factors.
He says that under normal conditions, the international medical community has made great strides in its ability to contain the disease. He adds that preliminary results show the new vaccine to be 97% effective. But the problem now stems from forces over which the medical community has no control. The northeastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been a war zone for years. Aid workers have been attacked by rebels, and the local population of this isolated region is suspicious of foreign workers.
Perhaps the Uganda-DRC border will have further minor outbreaks, but as Dr. Hatch says, the spread of Ebola into Uganda should not be a concern.