It seems like a normal day in Mubende, central Uganda. The shops remain open, the children are in school, and public gatherings are allowed, as long as people remain socially distant.
Ambulances passing by every few hours and health workers meticulously washing themselves before returning home are the only indications that this is not business as usual in the densely populated mining district, which is struggling to contain an Ebola outbreak.
Twenty-nine people, including four health workers, have died since the outbreak was declared in the district on September 20, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed Wednesday.
Among them was Mohammed Ali, a 37-year-old Tanzanian doctor who worked at the Mubende hospital and had operated on a patient who later tested positive for the virus. Six other health care workers were infected, bringing the total number of reported cases to 63 in five subcounties.
“We are scared, but there is nothing we can do,” said Kesande Pamela, who runs a shop in downtown Mubende. “I have to keep my shop open and make money. We have information and we are trying to keep ourselves safe. Let’s hope for the best. “
Yoweri Museveni, the country’s president, told Ugandans yesterday that the epidemic was under control. “The government has the ability to control this outbreak as we have done before. Therefore, there is no need for anxiety, panic, restriction of movement or unnecessary closure of public places, “he said in a televised speech.
However, Dr Christopher Mambula, head of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) program in Uganda, said the situation was “very serious”. Cases were increasing every day and it was still unclear how far the virus had spread, he said, adding that the lack of a vaccine to treat the Ebola strain responsible for the outbreak – the Sudan virus – was a concern.
Vaccines used to successfully curb recent Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are not effective against the Sudan virus. WHO said several vaccines were in various stages of development, two of which could begin clinical trials in Uganda in the coming weeks.
“In terms of leads and spreads, if you’ve spread to five [regions]or more than one place, the question arises what is the chain of transmission between those different cases, is it a person who has continued to contaminate other people or has it been something like a super-diffusing event, like a funeral, where not just one person was contaminated, but different, “he said.
“Until we have the opposite indication, I would say this is very serious,” Mambula said. “The reality is especially when you look at the incubation period, which generally lasts up to three weeks, you can go a week without seeing a case and then suddenly 50 cases occur in one day.
“We are still at the beginning and it seems that it is increasing and not decreasing. To date, there is nothing to say that he is in control. “
Health workers also said they were concerned that the disease could spread to refugee camps. Mubende, about a three-hour drive from the capital, Kampala, is located along a highway to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Along this route are several refugee settlements, hosting at least 200,000 of Uganda’s 1.5 million refugees.
WHO has donated $ 2 million from its emergency fund and is sending “additional specialists, supplies and resources” to help Uganda’s Ministry of Health contain the virus, which is spread through contact with blood and body fluids. . MSF has set up a treatment unit in Mubende hospital and plans to open another in the nearby Madudu sub-county, the center of the outbreak.
Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng called for more international support this week. “The efforts made so far are important but they need to be stepped up if we are to end this epidemic today,” she said. “I am counting on all of you to mobilize more resources in their respective capacities to end the Ebola pandemic in our country.”
The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the African Union, said Uganda will host a ministerial meeting next week with neighboring states and other African countries that have experienced Ebola outbreaks to explore ways to manage them.
This is the first outbreak of the Sudanese strain of Ebola in Uganda since 2012. The country is still battling the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, which has seen schools closed for nearly two years.