A team of medical personnel has been dispatched to the Kenya-Uganda border to strengthen health surveillance and screen travellers to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola disease reported in the neighbouring country.
The workers were sent to Busia, Malaba, Lwakhakha and Suam. They will sensitise locals on proper health guidelines against the disease as the number of confirmed and suspected Ebola deaths in Uganda hit 20.
“We are on high alert, especially on referral cases from the neighbouring country, including preservation of bodies,” said Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya.
The county has ordered morgues not to receive bodies from Uganda as part of precautionary measures to curb the spread of Ebola to Kenya.
“Only bodies whose cause of death is … ascertained will be preserved in our mortuary facilities,” said Mr Natembeya, cautioning security agents and health officials against relaxing the regulations.
“Our objective is to ensure that there are no cases of the spread of the virus as a result of contact with the bodies. We do not want to take chances with this deadly disease,” he said.
He said the porous Kenya-Uganda border is the main challenge and urged residents to observe safety measures.
Public health officers at Mt Elgon County Hospital were put on high alert, said medical superintendent Dr Emmanuel Wanjala.
“We have instructed the medical officers to ensure patients with cases of bleeding are placed on high surveillance,” he said.
High level hygiene
Trans Nzoia also designated Kaisagat Health Centre as an isolation and treatment facility for suspected Ebola cases.
“The public need to exercise caution by observing high-level hygiene and ensuring that they raise the alarm whenever they experience signs and symptoms of the disease,” Dr Wanjala appealed.
Ebola is a rare but deadly virus that causes fever, body aches, diarrhea and sometimes bleeding inside and outside the body.
As the virus spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs. Ultimately, it causes levels of blood-clotting cells to drop. This leads to severe, uncontrollable bleeding.
The disease was known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever but is now referred to as the Ebola virus.
It kills up to 90 percent of the people it infects.
As of Monday, data from the Ministry of Health indicated that the death toll from Ebola in Uganda had risen to four, while the number of confirmed Ebola cases was 20.
On Tuesday, Uganda confirmed the first fatality from the disease after a 24-year-old man died in Mubende District in central Uganda.
The Kenyan government has been pushed to intensify screening for Ebola at the Malaba and Lwakhakha border points.
“Our border with Uganda is porous and there is the likelihood that some boda boda operators from Uganda are using unregulated routes to carry their customers into Kenya,'' said Mr Peter Simiyu, a worker in Malaba.
He appealed to medical and security personnel to ensure that no one crosses into Kenya without being screened for the Ebola virus.
The Ministry of Health has set up an isolation unit in Malaba and medical tests are carried out on anyone entering Kenya to determine whether they have contracted the virus.
“We have enough health experts and testing kits and there is an isolation centre for individuals suspected to have contracted the virus,” said a health official, who requested not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
More testing points will be put up in Lwakhakha and suspected cases will be referred to major hospitals, the officials said.
The Nation observed that travellers entering Kenya in Malaba, including truck drivers and passengers, were being screened.
The government on Tuesday issued an Ebola alert and called for screening of travellers at entry points on the border with Uganda.
Last month, Kenya put health officials on the border on high alert after the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was investigating a suspected case of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Previous Ebola outbreaks and responses have shown that early diagnosis and treatment with optimised supportive care, with fluid and electrolyte repletion and treatment of symptoms, significantly improve survival.
The disease is usually introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope or porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
Busia Deputy Governor Arthur Odera assured residents that the national and county governments were working to contain the spread of the disease into Kenya.
“Interventions have been put in place at the entry points to ensure that the country is free of the deadly disease,” he said.
“We are educating the public to ensure everyone remains vigilant. We are calling upon everyone at the border to take advice from the national government and remain observant by ensuring that when anyone shows signs of Ebola, such persons get the required medical help to limit chances of transmission.”
But truck drivers in the Northern Corridor expressed fears of contracting the disease, with some choosing not to drive to Uganda.
Hamad Suleiman, a truck driver who ferries goods from Mombasa to Congo, said he had decided to wait until the disease is contained.
Some residents of Malaba expressed fears that travellers were using panya routes to enter Kenya without undergoing screening at the border.
Report by Gerald Bwisa, Brian Ojamaa and Barnabas Bii