Rwanda: Ebola Alert - Rwanda Reassures Public, Urges Vigilance After First Goma Case

THE Ministry of Health has moved to reassure the general public there is no case of Ebola outbreak in Rwanda, but urged vigilance to help prevent the virus from spreading to the country.

In a statement released Monday, the ministry said that it - along with its partners - is closely monitoring ongoing Ebola outbreak in neighbouring DR Congo and Uganda awhile stepping up preventive measures at all the points of entry.

The latest communication by the Health ministry follows Sunday's confirmation of an Ebola case in DR Congo's border town of Goma, which is in close proximity of Rwanda's western district of Rubavu.

A health work uses a thermometer to test temperature checking for signs of Ebola virus to passengers from Uganda to Rwanda at Gatuna Border in Gicumbi District on May 27, 2019. Emmanuel Kwizera

Goma, a city of more than a million inhabitants, maintains strong business ties with Rubavu - especially informal business - with as many as 90,000 people said to be crossing the common border each day, making it one of the world's most active border crossings.

"The Ministry of Health appeals to everyone to be careful and remain vigilant, and exercise measures to prevent Ebola because it is easy to prevent it when we mind cleanness and avoid visiting or being visited in our homes and places of worship by people coming from places affected by the outbreak," reads part of the statement.

The Ministry of Health listed nine preventive measures people should pay attention to. They include avoiding unnecessary trips to affected areas, avoiding hosting people from affected areas and informing relevant authorities in case such people are known to be anywhere in the country, swiftly undretaking medical checks in case of fever for anyone coming from an affected area, and quickly alerting the Police via toll free number 112 or the Ministry of Health via 114, or the nearest local or health authorities on seeing someone from an affected area.

Other measures include quickly seeking medical assistance at the nearest facility in case one shows symptoms of Ebola, avoiding contact with blood or body fluids or things used by someone affected by or who died from Ebola, and avoiding touching the body of a victim of Ebola or dead wild animals.

The public has also been urged to embrace the culture of washing hands using clean water and soap, as well as seeking medical treatment as early as possible every time one feels unwell.

The Congolese government on Sunday confirmed the first case of Ebola in the city of Goma, after a pastor there tested positive for the virus having arrived there by bus on Sunday.

The cleric had come from DR Congo's Butembo city that lies north of Goma. Efforts were underway to trace all those that had been in contact with the man.

'Low risk of spreading'

The Ebola outbreak in Goma raised concerns the virus could spread fast in a densely populated city close to the Rwandan border.

But officials have allayed these fears.

The Congolese health ministry said in a statement that due to the speed with which the patient was identified and isolated, "the risk of spreading to the rest of the city of Goma remains low."

With the Ebola outbreak persisting in several of DR Congo's eastern regions, Goma has for about a year rolled out preventive measures including introducing public nhand-washing stations and requiring taxi-moto riders not to share helmets.

The World Health Organisation said Monday morning that rapid response teams were already on the ground in Goma.

Mobilised for Ebola prevention and preparedness, these teams headed out into communities to provide information, sort fact from, rumour and help people to protect themselves, WHO said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, tweeted: "A case of Ebola has been confirmed in the city of Goma, DRC. While not welcome news, it is something we have long anticipated. We have been doing intensive work to prepare Goma so that any case is identified and responded to immediately."

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, said their teams were well prepared and supporting DR Congo's Ministry of Health "in a swift response."

She tweeted: "Health centres in Goma are trained in detection and infection prevention and 3,000 health workers have been vaccinated."

The Goma incident comes a month after Kigali urged the general public to cooperate and help strengthen efforts designed to prevent the spread of Ebola into the country.

This was after a case of the Ebola virus was confirmed in Uganda's western district of Kasese.

Stepping up measures

Ebola has since its latest outbreak in August last year killed more than 1,650 people in eastern DR Congo, according to statistics.

The government figures also show that 694 had been cured while 160,239 others vaccinated.

Rwanda has in recent months intensified the surveillance and screening at all points of entry, at health facilities, and at community levels.

It is also undertaking robust community awareness and mobilisation, vaccination of frontline workers, created an EVD treatment centre, and stepped up surveillance.

A special Ebola treatment facility was set up in Rubavu District and medical equipment and medicines were stocked in case of an outbreak, officials say.

Early this year, the Ministry of Health launched an Ebola campaign in which health and frontline health workers were immunised against the virus to protect them in case they have to deal with suspected or confirmed Ebola cases.

The Cabinet approved the use of an experimental drug - recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus vaccination - for the protection against the virus.

Rwanda has since trained 23, 657 people, including medical personnel at various levels, police officers, and Red Cross volunteers in preparation to deal with an outbreak.

The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba, on Monday visited Rubavu District to assess the situation, including the state of local preparedness, in case of an outbreak.

While there, she assured residents that all government agencies and partners are working together and are on alert to ensure that an Ebola threat is averted.

She emphasised the need and importance of continued individual vigilance and caution to avoid exposure to the deadly virus.

Checks are being done at all border-crossings, including the Rubavu-Goma border points.

Symptoms

According to the WHO, the incubation period of Ebola (the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms) is from 2-21 days. A person infected with Ebola cannot spread the disease until they develop symptoms.

But symptoms can be sudden. They include fever, severe weakness, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat. These are generally followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney, and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding (for example, oozing from the gums, or blood in the stools).

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