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UGANDA: Fresh Ebola outbreak burdens health system

KAMPALA, 15 November 2012 (IRIN) - Uganda's Ministry of Health says a fresh outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever - the second in the country this year - is straining an already over-stretched health system.

"An outbreak of this nature poses a serious financial and human resource challenge. Our resources have been strained since July. We need additional resources to handle the current outbreak. What we have at hand is not enough," Dennis Lwamafa, the acting director-general of health Services at the Ministry of Health, told IRIN.

"With the increasing epidemic outbreaks and their frequencies, we are further constrained... The costs to manage this outbreak cause a distortion... We had not planned for it."

As of 12 November, three people - all members of the same family - were suspected to have died from Ebola in Luwero District, 50km northwest of Kampala. Five people who had close contact with the deceased are also suspected to have contracted the disease; two of these are in an isolation unit at Mulago National Referral Hospital in the capital, Kampala, two in health centres in Luwero and one at Bombo Military Hospital, 30km north of the capital. The Ministry of Health has begun tracing people who may have had contact with the deceased and those infected.

On 15 November, Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper reported the death of a man who had presented with symptoms characteristic of Ebola at a health centre in the northwestern district of Koboko.

Sudan strain

The outbreak comes less than two months after the country was declared Ebola-free following an outbreak in July that killed 17 people in the western district of Kibaale. The virus in Luwero is the same strain - Ebola Sudan - as the Kibaale outbreak, according to the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI). The Sudan strain was responsible for an outbreak that infected more than 400 and killed some 220 people in Uganda in 2000 and one person in Luwero in May 2011.

The country is also battling an outbreak of Marburg - a viral haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola - which has killed eight people in the southwest.

Ebola, which causes fever and bleeding from orifices, can cause death within days. There is no cure or vaccine for it, so efforts are concentrated on stopping its spread.

"We need more financial resources to put [in place] optimal response plans to contain this highly infectious disease," Lwamafa said. "We need doctors, nurses to manage isolation units, surveillance teams to list, monitor and track the contacts, laboratory technicians to take the specimens for testing, burial, mobilization teams and psychosocial support teams to handle trauma."

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) in Uganda has dispatched a team of experts to Luwero to help in surveillance, case management, health education, epidemiology, laboratory, infection control and psychosocial services, according to Miriam Nanyunja, WHO's adviser on disease prevention and control.

"The response is being mounted to effectively contain the outbreak," she told IRIN.

Christine Ondoa, Uganda's minister of health, has appealed to the public to remain calm, take precautions to prevent contracting the virus and avoid public gatherings in the affected district.


Theme (s): Health & Nutrition,

Copyright © IRIN 2012
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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