The government of Uganda and partners have so far invested over 18 million dollars in Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) preparedness and readiness. This was revealed at the just concluded Accountability Forum organized by the Ministry of Health at which partners shared information on their contribution in the EVD preparedness efforts in the country.
The funds have been utilized to implement various activities under the various pillars of the preparedness response and significant progress has been made. For instance, under case management, 526 health workers in 14 districts have been trained on the appropriate handling of suspected EVD patients while taking sufficient protection measures for themselves. These health workers are now available for rapid deployment to any part of the country where EVD may occur.
In addition, Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) have been constructed in which the trained health workers can take care of patients. The centres are in Kasese (Bwera), Bundibugyo, Wakiso (Entebbe), Kabarole, Kabarole, Kikuube and Ntoroko districts. Two additional ETUs are under construction in Kanungu district and Naguru in Kampala city. Isolation units have also been established in Arua, Gulu and Mbarara districts.
The Accountability Forum was informed that presently, 9,806 health workers in 562 health units located in 11 high-risk districts of the Rwenzori sub-region have been trained and mentored on EVD Infection Prevention and Control (IPC). This is a critical aspect in the EVD response as many health workers are known to have acquired the infection, lost their lives and further perpetuated the disease through poor IPC practices. In efforts to ensure further health workers' safety against EVD, 4,419 frontline health workers in 13 districts have been vaccinated against the Ebola-Zaire virus subtype that is currently circulating in DRC with a high possibility of spillover to Uganda given the proximity of the epicentre.
EVD preparatory efforts have also been augmented with the training of 404 health workers in 13 districts on Psychosocial support and in addition, 17 districts now have trained and fully equipped teams ready to conduct safe and dignified burials.
For community education and awareness, over two million people have been reached through interpersonal communication and house to house visits using trained Village Health Teams (VHTs), civic leaders, religious and cultural leaders and volunteers. In the high-risk districts, over 12,000 people in these categories have been trained and deployed for this purpose.
Radio talk shows, announcements and television messages have supplemented the awareness activities and currently, 21 FM radio stations in 30 districts are broadcasting EVD messages. Printed material such as posters, leaflets and fliers in English and local languages have been distributed as well.
Regarding logistics, the Accountability Forum was informed that partners have provided over 30 Viral Haemorraghic Fever (VHF) kits that are a requirement in EVD responses. In addition, all high-risk districts have been supplied with IPC materials to be able to prevent infections in health facilities or in communities while conducting investigations.
Border entry points and Entebbe International Airport have had their staff trained in EVD detection and equipped with infrared thermometers and thermo-scanners to do the job. Presently, three thermo-scanners- two at Entebbe airport and one at Mpondwe Customs post have been installed and are facilitating the quick screening of travellers for EVD. Over 100 EVD suspected people have been detected through these efforts, their samples collected, tested at the Uganda Virus Institute and fortunately, all have been found to be negative for the disease.
To facilitate evacuation and transfer of patients, surveillance and community engagement activities, partners have provided eight brand new ambulances, two pickups and forty motorcycles to the Ministry of Health and the high-risk districts.
Addressing the forum, Uganda's Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng emphasized the need to now move from preparedness to readiness. "We need to ensure that Uganda is ready to respond to disease outbreaks, this way we shall have achieved all the dedication and time we have invested since August 2018, when the outbreak in DRC was announced," she said.
Similarly, Dr Bayo Fatumbi who represented WHO at the forum commended the government for the leadership noting that "we have managed to keep the outbreak out of Uganda for this long and this is definitely due to the commitment of the government and partners. We, however, need to do more."
Indeed despite the progress reported, the forum was informed that more work still needs to be done in areas such as waste management at lower health facilities, interactions with regular travellers to and from DRC as well as Congolese refugees resident in Kampala city and Wakiso district.
Strengthened cross border collaboration, community engagement and expansion of preparedness activities to other districts were also pointed out as critical. Vaccination of more frontline health workers was also highlighted as requiring urgent attention.
Partners commended for working closely with government on this endeavour include Center for Disease Control, United States Agency for International Development, Department for International Development, Irish AID, International Organization on Migration, Médecins Sans Frontières, Samaritan Purse, Save the Children, Uganda Red Cross Society, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Children's Fund, World Food Program and the World Health Organization among others.