Alok Shama

The United Kingdom (UK) through its Department for International Development (DFID) has provided eight million pounds to assist countries bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to prevent Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) from crossing borders in the region.

This was announced by Honorable Alok Shama the UK Secretary of State (DFID) while visiting Kasese district yesterday. “We have a good working relationship with the government and that is a relationship we want to continue building. Ebola is a huge issue in this region and obviously for the United Kingdom. We will, therefore, continue working with you and your government on this,” he said.

“The good news is that in the last month Uganda has been declared free of Ebola in Kasese district. But the reality is that we cannot be complacent. There are 800,000 crossing between these two countries every month and therefore the risk of Ebola crossing borders is higher” he added.

“The UK has been playing a leading role in combating the spread of Ebola. UKaid has been giving support in terms of vaccines, screening systems, ambulances and protective clothing. We have been helping local communities to combat the stigma that comes with vaccination and convalescing people. It is absolutely vital that we continue this work to prevent Ebola from spreading” Hon Shama noted.

At Mpondwe border crossing, Hon Shama accompanied by the WHO Country Representative and Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldermariam, the British High Commissioner to Uganda HE Peter West and the Acting Director-General of Health Services Dr Henry Mwebesa observed the screening process conducted by volunteers and health workers. He particularly sought to know how health workers deal with possible EVD importation into Uganda given the long and porous border between the two countries.

“The main approach has been to ensure that communities are sensitive and that community surveillance and risk communication actually work so that people are able to identify and report suspected cases. We hold community dialogues and regular engagements with community leaders, volunteers, religious and cultural leaders,” explained WHO Innocent Komakech.

“We are also using radios and distributing IEC materials in local languages in all communities which have raised community awareness. We have procured and distributed telephone sets through which people report to health workers. Training of health workers in government and private health units on infection prevention and control has been emphasized as well,” added Dr Yonas.

Indeed, through such approaches, over 920 alerts have been reported to health workers from communities in one year. On average, weekly nine alert cases are reported and responded to in Kasese district alone.

Fortunately, most of these have turned out negative for EVD. This level of community sensitivity leads health workers to conclude with reasonable confidence that there is no active EVD transmission in the community.

The in-charge of Bwera Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) Dr Luise  Kabyanga explained to Dr Shama the history and operation of the ETU that was constructed by WHO and MSF with support from UKaid. “This is the only ETU in the District. Other places have small holding units. When they get alert cases, they only hold them in the isolation units. It’s our responsibility to pick them from there and manage them from here” she explained.

Since June 2019, the Bwera ETU has treated over 68 alert cases with four deaths. The deaths include two confirmed Ebola cases. Others have been due to other causes.

At Isango sub-county Hon Shama and his delegation interacted with local leaders, Village Health Teams and community members who they found in a community meeting. He was impressed by their enthusiasm, the invaluable messaging through songs and dramas and their tremendous contribution to Ebola work in the communities.

“It’s when you come out here that you realize how serious this is. I take this opportunity to thank you very sincerely for the work you do in the community. You are at the frontline of all this and I am humbled to be standing in front of you,” he said.