In a press conference held on Wednesday, January 11, Ugandan officials declared the end of an Ebola virus outbreak that had plagued the country for nearly four months. The outbreak, which began in August of last year, resulted in the deaths of 55 individuals and affected several communities in the region.
The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed this news the same day. The organization’s chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, praised the country’s efforts in responding to the outbreak. He cited the implementation of “robust and comprehensive” control measures. These measures included increasing surveillance, contact tracing, and infection prevention and control. According to WHO guidelines, an outbreak is officially declared when there have been no new cases for 42 consecutive days, which is twice the length of the virus’s incubation period. The Ugandan Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, also acknowledged the successful efforts in ending the outbreak.
This effectiveness can be explained by the fact that health officials in Africa have made it a priority to be prepared for deadly viruses. This became a particular priority after the outbreaks of the Ebola Zaire strain in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013 and 2016 which resulted in over 11,300 deaths. Health officials have taken steps to prevent future outbreaks and protect the public.
The onset of the outbreak and responses by key actors
On September 20, 2022, the Ugandan Ministry of Health announced an outbreak of the Sudan Ebola Virus (SVD). This was announced after a patient treated at the Mubende Regional Referral Hospital tested positive for the virus at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI).
There was an immediate response from the neighboring countries. According to a report by the WHO, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and the United Republic of Tanzania worked with in-country and international partners, as well as the WHO, to prepare for a potential outbreak of SVD. Their efforts included activating multi-sectoral coordination mechanisms, providing refresher training for rapid response teams, enhancing laboratory training, strengthening community-based surveillance systems, engaging with communities, and providing risk communication and reinforcing points of entry.
Soon after the outbreak was confirmed by the Ugandan government, the Rwandan government implemented measures to prevent the spread of Ebola by setting up a booth at the Gatuna border between the two countries. The aim of this was to take the temperature of all individuals crossing the border. In the case that a person showed some symptoms, they were placed immediately in quarantine at the nearest hospital. The principal goal of the preventive measure was to stop the spread of the virus by ensuring the early detection and isolation of any possible cases.
Moreover, neighboring countries are still taking preventative measures even after the announcement of the end of the outbreak. This is the case of Kenya, which is still taking steps to prepare for any potential future outbreaks of the virus. The Ministry of Health in Kenya stated that the country remains at risk of Ebola cases, and as such, efforts to strengthen preparedness and response will continue. The Health Cabinet Secretary, Susan Wafula, highlighted that due to Kenya’s proximity to countries that have previously experienced Ebola outbreaks and the high volume of human traffic in the region, the risk of importation of the virus in the future remains high.
Despite these ongoing prevention measures, some professionals, such as Dr. Matshidiso Moeti (the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa), have explained that Ebola had cast a “dark shadow” over the region. However, Dr. Moeti also pointed to the recent ending of the Ebola outbreak as a cause for hope and optimism. “It starts off the year on a note of great hope for Africa,” she said.
Featured image by: AP Photo / Jerome Delay File