Kampala — Ministry of Health yesterday confirmed the Ebola scare at the Uganda-DR Congo border after receiving information that at least 257 people had died of the haemorrhagic fever by Saturday.
The ministry said they have intensified vigilance and screening to detect any person with Ebola signs crossing the border into Uganda.
Dr Henry Mwebesa, the Director for General Health Services in the ministry, said by Saturday his office had received information that about 257 people had contracted Ebola inside Congo, about 100km away from the Uganda border.
He said 156 deaths were registered near a landing site on Lake Albert which is shared between Uganda and DR Congo.
"This is about 100km from our border but of recent there have been more challenging and scaring cases. We got cases 50km from our border. From the Ntoroko side of the border directly on the landing site at Lake Albert," Dr Mwebesa said.
He added: "Those become very critical and scaring to us because those are very close contacts because we keep our people there for business. Some of them have relatives there, some even have farms. And because of that direct contact with the people, it becomes very difficult for us." At least 80,000 people crossing to Uganda through the Mpondwe border and other crossing points in Kasese District are screened weekly.
Dr Loice Kabyanga, coordinator of the Ebola Response Unit at Bwera Hospital, said at least 20,000 people are screened on market days of Tuesday and Friday whereas 8,000 are screened on other days. Uganda has remained on high alert after months of Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The border at Mpondwe and six other crossing areas are used daily by people accessing markets and gardens on either side of the border.
Dr Mwebesa explained that while the ministry has increased surveillance at the official border points, there is worry that the informal paths at the porous border could bring it infected people who might cross without getting screened for Ebola and spread the highly contagious disease.
"Our system is very prepared. That is not accidental or luck that we don't have a case yet when you hear of those many numbers near our border. It is because of a very vigilant system from Kisoro to Nebbi. But a case can cross from our porous borders. Not everybody passes on the official border points," Dr Mwebesa said.