By Denis Turyahebwa
According to Health Minister Ms.Jane Ruth Aceng, while addressing the press on Friday at Uganda media centre, the ministry has administered about 2,100 vaccinations covering ‘frontline health personnel’ working in districts near the border.
“Currently in Uganda, we have 2,100 doses of the vaccine available at the National Medical Stores and preparations are in high gear, including training of the health workers that are to be targeted.” she clarified.
“Tens of thousands across the border in both directions weekly for trade and family visits and other purposes will be targeted. The risk of cross border transmission was assessed to be very high, hence the need to protect our health workers with this vaccine,” she said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo declared an outbreak of Ebola on August 1 and since then 250 cases of Ebola have been confirmed, 180 deaths and another 41 suspected cases.
Because of the short distance from the outbreaks in Congo, Uganda has been on high alert, with heightened screenings of arriving travellers and training of health personnel in border areas.
Dr Aceng said the widespread insecurity in eastern Congo’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces added to Uganda’s vulnerability to cross border transmission.
“The security situation in North Kivu and Ituri is hindering effective implementation of response activities,” Aceng said.
Dr Acheng said Ebola vaccine will be given with the consent of Uganda’s health workers, since it is being used outside of clinical trials. Despite being experimental, the vaccine is absolutely safe, she added.
“The vaccine is a recombinant vaccine genetically developed by getting a particle of the Ebola gene, replacing a particle of the gene with another virus called the vesicular stomatitis virus. The vaccine therefore is a genetically modified organism, that is able to replicate and cause antibody production against the Ebola virus but not cause Ebola virus disease,” she explained.
The Ebola virus causes a severe and often fatal hemorrhagic fever.
The vaccine, known as rVSV, has been used during recent outbreaks in Congo, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and is currently being dispensed in North Kivu.
However, Uganda has no confirmed cases of Ebola, but as the threat worsens in the DRC, the preventive measure is seen as necessary because of heavy border traffic.
Uganda’s worst Ebola outbreak was in 2000 when 425 people were infected, more than half of whom died.