MPs call for mass  teaching on Ebola 

Legislators led by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Thomas Tayebwa, on Tuesday asked the Executive to accelerate public sensitisation to aid swift containment of Ebola Virus Disease confirmed in Mubende District. PHOTO/ PARLIAMENT 

What you need to know:

  • The lawmakers accuse the government of not doing much to sensitise the population about the highly contagious disease.

Legislators led by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Thomas Tayebwa, on Tuesday asked the Executive to accelerate public sensitisation to aid swift containment of Ebola Virus Disease confirmed in Mubende District.
The Ministry of Health confirmed the resurgence of the deadly disease, which killed hundreds in northern Uganda in 2000, hours after this newspaper broke the story.
During plenary on Tuesday, Deputy Speaker Tayebwa altered the order paper to facilitate a statement and debate on the outbreak of the highly contagious disease.
 
In her statement to the House, the State minister for Health (in-charge of General Duties), Ms Anifa Kawooya, said a 24-year-old man, a resident of Ngabano Village in Madudu Sub-county, had become the first confirmed fatality in the renewed Ebola outbreak. 
He died at Mubende Regional Referral Hospital on September 19, officials said.
“More information is still being gathered concerning the possible source of infection and contacts for this confirmed case,” Minister Kawooya said, adding that the National Rapid Response Team had been activated to support the district team. 
“Surveillance and contact tracing, screening of travellers, both on designated and non-designated border points, and line listing of all the possible contacts to the index case, were underway in Mubende and Kiboga districts,” she said. 

But MPs representing constituencies in Mubende District, among them Mr Pascal Mbabazi of Buwekula County, punched holes in the minister’s statement, claiming that deaths from strange illnesses in the area this month alone had grossed 25. 
“One month ago, I reported about the operations of the artisanal mines, and this boy who died has been a boda boda [rider] working [in] those mine fields. I reported that if these operations are not regulated, a catastrophe would occur.  I feel pity that the submissions we make here are taken for granted and now my people are dying,” Mr Mbabazi said. 
Mr Muwanga Kivumbi, (Butambala) questioned why a single case would be publicised as an outbreak, and wondered if the ministry was withholding information on the intensity of the matter. 

A single confirmed case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), previously called a haemorrhagic fever, is, unlike other contagions, considered an outbreak because of the significant risk of its international spread and travel restrictions, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Under the 2005 International Health Regulations, which refers to epidemics as events, United Nations member states are obliged to detect and report events that may constitute a potential Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

In this context, any disease that meets two or all four criteria; serious public health impact, unusual or unexpected occurrence, significant cross-border spread and significant risk of international trade or travel restriction, as is the case with Ebola, is automatically pronounced an outbreak.
Such a declaration under WHO rules triggers automatic involvement of the United Nations health watchdog to support the incident country with “community engagement, disease detection, contact tracing, vaccination, case management, laboratory services, infection control, logistics, training and assistance with safe and dignified burial practices”, information on its website indicates.

In a rejoinder on the floor of Parliament on Tuesday, minister Kawooya said they had no independent confirmation of other Ebola-caused fatalities in the country, but contacts of probable cases would be traced. 
“I urge all Ugandans to avoid handshaking, hugging and [to] observe sanitation and hygiene practices such as hand-washing,” Ms Kawooya said, disclosing plans to roll out risk reduction communication. 
MP Mbabazi argued that the response plan lacked mass awareness campaigns essential to educate the population about signs and symptoms of the disease, actions to stem spread, referral mechanisms, care for, and protocols for burying, victims.
The government yesterday said about a dozen suspected Ebola cases had been taken into isolation, but a final status report will depend on outcomes of ongoing sample tests at Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI).

The lawmakers demanded that the government engages all local radio stations to provide free airtime for sensitising local communities, and draft political and opinion leaders to rally masses to adhere to preventive measures.  
Our snap interviews with border residents and health workers following official announcement of the outbreak on Tuesday, revealed lack or limited equipment for screening inbound travellers, fewer health workers and no, or inadequate logistical and medical supplies. 
Legislators also expressed concern that if not quickly contained, the outbreak could batter the tourism sector, one of Uganda’s leading sources of income, which is struggling to recover from the disruptions and travel freezes birthed by two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government allayed such fears, urging the public to keep calm and vigilant by promptly reporting suspected cases besides taking precautionary measures. 
It ruled out travel restrictions, announcing that national game parks will remain open to visitors. 
MP Kivumbi said if deemed necessary, the government should impose a quarantine on the affected areas.
Deputy Speaker Tayebwa asked the government to provide regular updates to the House on Ebola, adding that “any day you feel you have a report on this matter, we shall give you time”. 
 

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