Busia on high alert as Ebola reaches Jinja

People arriving in Kenya from Uganda at the Busia border

People arriving in Kenya from Uganda at the Busia border get into the country without screening for Ebola virus on September 21, 2022. 

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

Health teams in Busia County have stepped up surveillance following reports of the spread of the Ebola virus disease to Jinja, Uganda, which is about 100 kilometres away from the Kenyan border.

An isolation centre has been set up at Alupe to accommodate patients suspected to be infected with the Ebola virus, while hospitals in the region have designated holding rooms for patients presenting symptoms associated with the disease.

Additional measures include a ban on transportation of bodies from Uganda to mortuaries in Kenya.

“Although we are yet to report a case of Ebola in Busia, we must remain alert at all times. All the three suspected cases we have had before turned out negative, but we have decided to heighten surveillance, including at the routes across the porous border,” said Dr Nelson Andanje, the county health officer.

Despite the looming risk of Ebola across the border, residents are still sneaking into Uganda and going about their activities with minimal caution. Security and health officials have identified 64 routes being used by people to cross to either side of the border without being screened.

The health officials have complained that their counterparts from Uganda were not sharing information on the spread of Ebola and the number of deaths.

“The disease has been reported in eastern Uganda at a place called Jinja, which is close to our border, but there has been limited communication from our counterparts on what is happening and on the severity of the outbreak,” said Dr Andanje.

“We can’t sit back and hope all is well. Hundreds of people are crossing daily into and out of Uganda to trade and our brothers from Uganda come here to seek treatment. If we don’t stay alert, this virus will take us by complete surprise.”

Part of the ongoing campaign involves sensitising residents to the symptoms of the disease and how it is transmitted. “I just want to inform our people to remain vigilant. If one does not have reason to cross the border, they should avoid going there. For the rest, they need to take necessary precaution,” said Dr Andanje.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were 141 Ebola cases in Uganda as of November 22, 2022. Of those, 55 resulted in deaths. Among the infected were 19 health workers, with seven dying. It is further reported 22 probable cases died before samples were obtained for confirmation. So far, 79 of those infected have recovered.

Health officials are worried that the under-reporting of the cases by Ugandan teams could make it difficult to monitor the situation. Campaigns had been intensified to sensitise locals to be vigilant and avoid cross-border movements without being screened.

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