Yasiin Mugerwa

Ebola scare hits hard

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A graphic illustrating how the Ebola virus affects humans.

A graphic illustrating how the Ebola virus affects humans. More than 1,000 people have been killed by the deadly virus in West Africa. AFP Illustration. 

By Yasiin Mugerwa

Posted  Sunday, August 10  2014 at  01:00

In Summary

On Friday, the authorities at Entebbe airport quarantined a suspect from South Sudan who had come to seek treatment in Uganda.

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Even with the news of suspected Ebola infected persons at our door steps, in Parliament —the temple of politics, its business as usual. The MPs have kept silent on a matter of national significance. In spite of our impeccable experience in dealing with these deadly epidemics, it will be very dangerous if we sat back and pin hope on past success in the fight against Ebola without financial backing.

Because Ebola is not forgiving of mistakes, it’s therefore critical that as a country we prepare for what is yet to come. It disconcerting that even in the face of these unusual deaths, in the 2014/15 Health budget, there is nothing substantial to demonstrate the country’s readiness to fight back in the event that Ebola virus hits us again.

Almost 1,000 dead
The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa continues to spread, killing hundreds. Already the deadliest epidemic of the hemorrhagic fever has killed more than 1,000 people as of Wednesday last week.
However, the World Health Organisation put the death toll at 932 as the worst outbreak in history spreads from Guinea to Liberia; from Nigeria to Sierra Leone and from Sierra Leone to Saudi Arabia. In Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has since declared a state of emergency because of the Ebola outbreak, saying some civil rights may have to be suspended as a result of the crisis. At least 282 people in Liberia alone have died from the virus.

In West Africa, dozens of health workers, including doctors have died from Ebola. Just like our own hero, the late Dr Matthew Lukwiya in 2000, they contracted the deadly virus from their patients.
In other affected countries, health workers are said to be fleeing their posts due to increasing number of Ebola patients and the deaths around them. It’s a major crisis. For the first time, the deadly virus aboard airlines is moving across borders.

The current outbreak of Ebola has already claimed the lives of 60 healthcare workers, including those of two prominent doctors, Samuel Brisbane in Liberia and Sheik Umar Khan in Sierra Leone. The courage of medics in these circumstances, working in stifling protective gear, is humbling.

Information from Liberia suggests that the late Patrick Sawyer, the first man to die of Ebola in Nigeria last week, escaped from quarantine and boarded a flight to Nigeria. However, Sawyer is not alone; there could be more potential virus careers out there.

This is why authorities in Uganda must double efforts to fix our porous borders as a matter of urgency. Money must be provided in the budget to ensure that all our border points have functioning screening centres and security must be stepped up.

Tighten border points
Sawyer, who caught the disease from his sister, flew from Monrovia in Liberia to Ghana and changed planes in Togo, before flying to Lagos, raising fears the disease may have spread to passengers and crew on board the flights.

Parliament should provide all the necessary funds to the Ministry of Health to establish isolation centres and Internal Affairs ministry should also be facilitated to beef up security at the border points.

This is because the rate at which Ebola is spreading has even confused scientists as well as policy makers. It is the first time the virus has reached the sort of critical levels that makes tracing its victims’ contacts very difficult. The virus has no treatment yet.

Budgeting period ends
The budgeting process is ending soon. Under the Budget Act, 2001, Parliament must pass the budget at the end of August to enable government implement its programmes.

About Ebola

Ebola haemorrhagic fever is one of numerous Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers. It is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).
Ebola is not an airborne disease. It’s spread through contact with the infected person. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to fight this virus other than to contain its spread: there is no treatment, no cure. Researchers are working on a new vaccine that may prevent infection. When symptoms of Ebola do begin, healthcare providers can only offer supportive care.

Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, Dr Asuman Lukwago told Parliament Watch that Ebola spreads by direct contact with a patient’s blood or other bodily fluids like urine, saliva, and sweat. The highest concentration of virus is thought to be in blood, vomit and diarrhoea. He said someone can also get infected by handling soiled clothing or bed sheets without protection, and then touching their nose, mouth or eyes. Because of the deadly nature of the disease, relatives are not allowed to nurse the Ebola victims and health workers must wear protective gear.

ymugerwa@ug.nationmedia.com