Friday November 16 2012

Enhance response to these epidemics

Just a month after the Ministry of Health declared the country free of the deadly Ebola virus, two deaths from the disease have been confirmed just about 30 kilometres away from the capital. This is bound to cause panic among the public and consternation in medical circles. And it is because the latest cases indicate that the health officials were probably too much in a hurry to wish away this grave threat that lurks in our country.

Even as we commend the Luweero District health office for professionally handling the latest case by promptly sending over blood samples for testing at the Central Public Health Laboratory and the Uganda Research Institute Laboratory, both in Kampala, we feel a lot more could have been done. The results took several days to verify and release, with initial suspicion that it was probably a Marburg attack.

The question that now arises is whether all the people, including the health workers that came into contact with the two victims, are being monitored and if they show any signs of the disease immediately quarantined. We are pleased to note that health response teams from the Ministry of Health, the WHO and other organisations are already on the ground in Luweero taking the necessary steps to contain the situation. And this, in a way, is precisely what the problem is.

There has been a tendency to mobilise such health teams only after deaths are reported following such outbreaks. Since all are aware that the country has been prone to such epidemics and the most susceptible regions are well-known, what is required is to build the capacity of these regions to step up surveillance and deal with such threats immediately. The establishment of a well-equipped and facilitated national rapid response unit with equally strong regional branches is a must. We are dealing with grave dangers that cannot afford us a window of more than a day for the transportation and testing of samples in the capital and sending them back.

This latest Ebola outbreak, coming only several months after 11 people died in another epidemic, calls for an all-time alert and an enhanced capacity to prevent deaths.