Uganda to Vaccinate Health Workers Amid Contagion Fears Along DRC Border

A medical officer attends to a suspected ebola patient. Dr Mathew Lukwiya (inset) died of ebola when the disease first broke out in 2000.

Uganda planned to start vaccinating some of its health workers against Ebola on Wednesday, making it in the first country in the world to give the vaccine without experiencing an active outbreak.

Uganda is vaccinating at least 3,000 healthworkers in five districts that border the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an Ebola outbreak has killed at least 180 people.

The vaccination programme in this area is driven by fears about the disease spreading across the border between the two countries, the porousness of this border being a big concern, according to Grace Kiwanuka, executive director of the Uganda Healthcare Federation.

"We've seen a lot of exposure for healthworkers along the Congo border," Kiwanuka told RFI. "There's really a need for some sort of intervention to protect those workers. Uganda has a very porous border with the DR Congo, so we have a lot of refugees and other people crossing through from where there is violence."

Eastern DRC violence hampers anti-Ebola fight

In most of the DR Congo, the government has implemented some important measures to help combat the spread of Ebola. For example, in places of entry to and exit from big cities where there has been an Ebola case, people are screened for the disease and have to wash their hands to contain the virus.

In light of the violence in the eastern DRC, there are questions about how well-equipped Kinshasa is to deal with the spread of Ebola there.

"The situation isn't getting better in this region," Emmanuel Dupuy, an Africa specialist and head of the Paris-based IPSE think-tank, told RFI. "A number of rebel groups are still active there, as President Joseph Kabila mentioned when speaking to the UN recently, when he questioned the efficacy of UN peacekeeping missions that have been in eastern DRC for nearly 20 years."

"There are areas that are very difficult to access and in dealing with Ebola you need to be able to isolate patients, as well as contact tracing, to be following all of the contacts of different people, and safe and dignified burials," added Tricia Norwood, an Doctors Without Borders official based in Bunia in eastern DRC, near the Ugandan border.

"In order to be able to do that, you need to have gained the trust of the community and you need good information-sharing with the community and that's really hard when you don't have access to certain communities," Norwood told RFI. "I know that the DRC health ministry is working very hard in trying to get access to certain communities, but [the security situation] definitely complicates the entire response."

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