Uganda begins Ebola vaccination for high-risk health workers

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The exercise, which began on Tuesday, is centred around five high-risk districts of Uganda that border the DRC (Bundibugyo, Kabarole, Kasese, Ntoroko and Bunyangabu) and involves the administering of 2,100 doses of vaccine to health workers, protecting them against the particular strain of Ebola now circulating in some parts of DRC.

It will be the first time the vaccine is used in a country not in the midst of an active Ebola outbreak.

A World Health Organization assessment of the situation in DRC released on 22 October, warned of the potential for the virus to spread into Rwanda, South Sudan and Burundi, as well as Uganda, and called on these countries to step up readiness efforts.

This could have been avoided if the vaccine had been available then.

Uganda has started vaccinating health workers against Ebola in a border district near the outbreak in Congo, where the highly infectious viral disease has killed 189 people.

Health workers are usually among the first to be infected in an Ebola outbreak.

The vaccine, although subject to more scientific research and is still not yet licensed, is "being used on a compassionate basis, to protect persons at highest risk of the Ebola outbreak", the statement said.

By far the worst epidemic was in West Africa in 2014-2016, when 28,000 people were infected and 11,000 died in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.Ebola kills between 20 percent and 70 percent of victims, depending on the strain.

Uganda's Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng believes that administration of the vaccine to health care operatives has been the missing link in the country's EVD preparation and readiness efforts.

"The vaccine is highly potent and it will protect workers effectively, " Woldemariam said.

"The vaccine is not available to the general population at this stage".

Besides militia attacks that have hindered health workers, the region's high population density and movements across the borders to Uganda and Rwanda pose additional risks that the highly lethal fever disease could spread in the region.

At least some 3,000 frontline health workers in the five high-risk districts of Kabarole, Bunyangabo, Kasese, Bundibugyo, and Ntoroko, which border the DRC, are targeted.

Other EVD preparatory activities going on are coordination of activities; health facility and community-based EVD surveillance; collection and testing of blood samples from alert cases; capacity building for infection prevention and control, clinical management, psycho-social care and for safe and dignified burials.