Ebola outbreak spreads from DRC to Uganda as child diagnosed with virus
A five-year-old boy in Uganda has tested positive for Ebola in the first cross-border case of the deadly virus since an outbreak started in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last year, the country’s health ministry has said.
The Congolese child has been isolated with family members at a hospital in a western district near the Congo border, according to Ugandan health minister Jane Aceng.
Two family members were also being tested for Ebola after developing symptoms, with results expected on Wednesday.
Confirmed late on Tuesday by officials, it is a blow to efforts by health workers who for months sought to prevent contamination across the frontier.
The announcement puts new pressure on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare the Ebola outbreak – the second-deadliest in history – a global health emergency.
In April a WHO expert committee decided that the outbreak, while of “deep concern,” was not yet a global health emergency. International spread is one of the major criteria the United Nations agency considers before such a declaration.
It was not immediately clear when the boy entered Uganda. A WHO statement said he entered on Sunday with his family through the Bwera border post. He sought treatment at Kagando hospital and was transferred to Bwera Ebola treatment unit, WHO said.
The DRC’s health ministry in a separate statement said the boy, from Mabalako, arrived on Monday at the country’s Kasindi border post. There, a dozen family members appeared to have symptoms and were transferred to an isolation centre at the local hospital for observation.
Six family members then broke away while being transferred to an Ebola treatment centre in Beni and crossed into Uganda while Congolese border officials alerted their Ugandan colleagues, the DRC’s health ministry said. Uganda officials found the family members at the Kagando hospital, where the boy’s Ebola case was confirmed.
Officials from the two countries will meet on Wednesday about the possibility of sending the family back to Beni in the DRC for treatment, the health ministry said.
There have been more than 2,000 confirmed and probable cases of the Ebola virus in the DRC since August, with nearly 1,400 deaths. The disease is spread mainly through contact with the bodily fluids of those infected.
For the first time an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine is being widely used, with more than 130,000 doses distributed. Uganda has vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers, WHO said.
“The spread of Ebola across the international border is a clear signal that the international community must reset and redouble its efforts” in fighting the disease, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said.
Brechtje van Lith, Save the Children’s country director in Uganda, said: “Now is the critical time to step up efforts to make sure that this one case does not become many. The Ebola outbreak is already devastating lives and communities across eastern Congo – action and funds are needed right now to stop it spreading further across the region.”
Reporting by the AP and Independent