23 October 2012

Uganda: Stop Outbreaks to Save Lives, Tourism

Another outbreak of Ebola fever has been confirmed in the district of Luweero. ( Resource: Ebola Outbreak Confirmed in Uganda )


Hardly had Uganda been declared free of deadly Ebola following an outbreak in Kibale district in July, than the deadlier Marburg fever broke out in Kabale district last week.

The sister viruses which were once seen as a one-off in Uganda now appear to be part of us. So, how do we deal with the new reality? Can we afford to simply treat the symptoms whenever outbreaks occur and then sit back and wait for the next outbreak? That would be a costly strategy.

We must invest in research into what is causing these outbreaks. Why, for instance, are they more regular now than at any time in the past? With the help of donors, we must establish well-equipped centres for prevention and control. If we do not take such action, Ebola, Marburg or any other disease that fate might throw Uganda's way, will jeopardise the few achievements made elsewhere.

For instance, when Ebola broke out in Kibale, many tourists cancelled their bookings to Kibaale national park and other locations in the country. Now with Marburg in Kabale district, expect many tourists to cancel their bookings to the nearby Bwindi national park where mountain gorillas, one of Uganda's most prominent attractions, reside.

Yet tourism is today said to be Uganda's second largest foreign exchange earner, after remittances of Ugandans working abroad. We must, therefore, guard it from such shocks by investing in thorough studies to establish what is causing these outbreaks and educate our people on how to prevent future outbreaks.

We also need to build robust intervention measures to deal decisively with the outbreaks when they do occur. This will help us not only save lives but also protect the economic cash cow that is tourism. It is not a coincidence that the recovery of the tourism sector came after the conflicts in northern and western Uganda had subsided, boosting tourism in the major national parks, Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth respectively.

The outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg in such sensitive places as Gulu in 2000, Bundibugyo later on, Kibaale in July 2012, and now Marburg in Kabale, could potentially wipe away such gains. We must not let that happen.

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