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16.06.2019 Uganda

WHO says no global emergency after Ebola outbreak spreads to Uganda

©REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
JUN 16, 2019 UGANDA

The World Health Organization says the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not qualify as an international threat, despite the spread of the virus to neighbouring Uganda, carried by an infected family.

The head of the UN health agency Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is in DRC reviewing the Ebola response, said the situation was nonetheless very serious.

"Although the outbreak does not at this time pose a global health threat, I want to emphasise that for the affected families and communities, this outbreak is very much an emergency," he told reporters on Friday.

Friday's emergency committee meeting was prompted by confirmation this week of Ebola deaths in a western Uganda region that borders the DRC.

There have been more than 2,000 cases of Ebola, including over 1,400 deaths, since it emerged in eastern DRC in August.

Although a new vaccine has been developed, and has been administered to more than 130,000 people in DRC, efforts by medical teams to distribute it have been hampered by militia violence in the region.

Uganda cases
The Uganda cases stem from a Congolese woman, married to a Ugandan, who travelled with her mother, three children and their nanny to DRC to care for her ill father, who later died of Ebola.

The WHO said 12 members of the family who attended the burial in Congo were placed in isolation in the DRC, but six "escaped and crossed over to Uganda" on 9 June.

The next day, a five-year-old boy died. Tests confirmed he had Ebola and the family was placed in an isolation ward.

His three-year-old brother was also confirmed to have Ebola, as was their grandmother, who died late Wednesday.

Speaking from western Uganda's Kasese district, Josephine Okwera, the director of health and social services for the Ugandan Red Cross told AFP that it was difficult to manage the porous border with DRC.

"People are continuing to come in to the country and not passing through the areas where screening is taking place, because screening has been instituted along certain points of entry but not all the points," she said.