Follow SOPs or risk lockdown – minister

The Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, briefs journalists about Ebola  at the Uganda Media Centre in Kampala on October 26, 2022. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The disease has killed 30 out of 109 infected persons within 35 days.

The State Minister for Trade, Ms Harriet Ntabazi, has summoned traders in Kampala for a meeting next week to explore options in the wake of surging Ebola Virus Disease infections.
The minister’s revelations yesterday came two days after Cabinet discussed the situation of the contagion on Monday, and coincided with a detailed brief to the country by the Health minister, Dr Jane Aceng, who said the disease had killed 30 out of 109 infected persons within 35 days. Six of the fatalities are health workers.
Whereas 34 patients have been treated and improved as a result of early detection, the minister said the rate of spread of EVD in Kampala metropolitan (capital, Wakiso and Mukono districts) was noticeably higher due to population concentration, intense economic activity and faster mobility.

“The penetration of Ebola [Virus Disease] in heavily-populated areas creates a situation of rapid spread and is associated with sustained and protracted person-to-person-transmission. Urban Ebola transmission is complex and the government will do all it takes to ensure the control of transmission in the urban settings,” Dr Aceng said.
To slow EVD spread in Mubende and Kassanda, the two original epicentres, the government slapped localised lockdowns, the type that Uganda Medical Association (UMA) president, Dr Samuel Oledo, has proposed should be replicated in metropolitan Kampala.
Already six pupils have caught the disease in the city, creating in their trail 170 contacts within the schools’ community, and the government expects within the next month to build a 64-bed capacity facility in Kampala to increase countrywide bed capacity for Ebola treatment to 351 (including eight Intensive Care Unit beds at Entebbe Hospital), Dr Aceng said in an address yesterday.

As worries continue about Ebola spread in Kampala, the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) headquarters in an internal memo yesterday warned staff to be vigilant and observe preventive measures put in place by the Ministry of Health after a boda boda cyclist at the NIRA gate stage collapsed and began bleeding through the orifices, one of the symptoms of EVD. It was unclear if his was indeed an Ebola attack.
In a related development, unconfirmed reports said a suspected Ebola patient had escaped from a hospital to Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb, but Health ministry surveillance teams picked up the lady for isolation.
Amid these reports, Ms Ntabazi summoned traders in Kampala for a meeting next week to discuss the next course of action ahead of expected frenzied Christmas and New Year festive season shopping.
While launching the first agro-ecological market systems expo in Kampala yesterday, Ms Ntabazi said traders must be conscious, especially during the festive season that attracts thousands of shoppers into the city.
“We have been having five million people coming in the city daily, but now we are going to have more. Take serious the precautions, wash your hands, sanitise and put on masks if you can. Although it (EVD) is not airborne, we have to prevent it. Let’s not come close to people we don’t understand,” she said.

Ebola is transmitted from mammals to humans through close and protracted contact, while the human-to-human infection is linked to physical contact with fluids of infected persons such as saliva, blood and sweat,
Information Minister Chris Baryomunsi, a medical doctor, last evening confirmed that the Cabinet discussed the Ebola situation in the country during its Monday meeting, but without reference to lockdown.
Similarly, the Director General of Health Services, Dr Henry Mwebesa, who is the equivalent of chief government scientists, said they had not considered a lockdown in Kampala but that the National Ebola Task Force will advise on it if the situation threatens to go out of hand.

“We don’t expect any lockdown, at least as of now. There is no indication of a lockdown in Kampala. If the situation changes significantly, the National Task Force chaired by His Excellency President (Museveni) will discuss it. But as of now, the situation does not warrant a lockdown,” he said.
Instead, Dr Mwebesa said the ministry is focusing on intensifying sensitisation, enforcing SoP compliance and tracing contacts.
Epidemiologists argue that the maze of activities and on-the-move humans present a risk that rising infections in the capital could cause faster transmission to the countryside.
Sources within government told this publication earlier in the week that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had advised Uganda to institute a lockdown in the city to contain rapid spread of the disease, but Dr Yonas Tegegn, the UN health watchdog’s lead in the country representative, dismissed the account as false.

In a rejoinder yesterday, Kampala City Traders Association secretary general, Mr Thadeus Musoke, said they were working with the government to promote mass awareness about Ebola and its prevention.
“We are going to be monitoring all the arcades to ensure that there is compliance and we are engaging the land lords to put in place all the ministry of Health guidelines. On Saturday, we are launching the official campaign against Ebola starting with St Balikuddembe (formerly Owino) Market,” he said.
Dr Aceng urged the public to remain vigilant saying Ebola can be prevented but has no cure.