Uganda rolls out trial vaccines as it scrambles to contain Ebola outbreak

Mubende, Uganda

Joseph Singiringabo has lost almost everything and everyone he held dear to Ebola. In a matter of weeks, the 78-year-old lost his wife, his son and a newborn granddaughter to the disease.

He takes care of three grandchildren under the age of 13 after their mother fled the village to escape the danger of Ebola. His cattle were stolen while he was away in the mandatory 21-day quarantine, leaving him penniless and desperate.

I don’t know where they got the virus because I went and got checked and I left the hospital without any problem with these kids of mine,” he said, sitting on a log outside his humble home in Madudu, in the center of Mubende in Uganda. neighbourhood.

“The problem I am facing now is getting food. Second, I never went to school, but I want these grandchildren to continue studying.”

Uganda is grappling with the deadliest Ebola outbreak in more than a decade, first detected in the Mubende district in late September.

The deadly disease has ravaged families, leaving authorities struggling to control its spread.

The 2012 Ebola outbreak in the Kibaale district in the western region of the country resulted in 17 deaths out of 24 confirmed cases, but was over within 3 months.

Officials have launched aggressive contact tracing to track down relatives and friends who handled the bodies of the first victims or attended funerals.

Some escaped from quarantine facilities, others traveled as far as the capital Kampala, and a few instead visited traditional healers and medicine men for treatment.

“Some patients are still hiding and don’t know they have Ebola, so they’re out there in the community,” public health physician Dr. Jackson Amone to CNN.

An Ebola treatment unit in Mubende, Uganda.

He was involved in every Ebola outbreak in Uganda and in Sierra Leone in 2017. “We need to do case studies, trace many contacts and engage the community so that those who show Ebola symptoms are tested before we release them.”

Dr. Amone leads the teams serving the Ebola treatment units in Mubende. The first was hurriedly set up on the edge of the Mubende Regional Referral Hospital.

A larger center operated by the non-profit medical organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is expanding with new ICU beds on the other side of town.

Healthcare workers don extensive personal protective equipment (PPE) to enter the red zones where patients are treated.

In one zone, a health worker cradles a three-month-old baby suspected of being infected. Her mother and another sibling are undergoing treatment for Ebola and the disease has already claimed her father’s life.

It’s a cruel welcome to the world for the baby wrapped in a blanket as the steady rain falls on the makeshift treatment center.

It is a familiar story in this region as Ebola spreads despite the efforts of the Ugandan government.

“This Ebola is much easier to deal with than corona (virus) or AIDS. The biggest problem here is behavior change,” President Yoweri Museveni told the nation in a speech on Tuesday evening, stressing the need to follow the government’s procedures for those who come into contact with the disease.

Ebola can spread from person to person through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids such as saliva, sweat, semen or feces, or through contaminated objects such as bedding or needles.

“It doesn’t spread through the air like COVID-19 and doesn’t hide for several months before showing itself like AIDS,” Museveni said in his televised address.

The country had so far recorded 55 deaths from Ebola, 141 confirmed cases and 73 people had recovered, he said.

Minister of Health Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero told CNN she expects Uganda to have the outbreak under control by April if communities work with the government.

Healthcare workers don extensive personal protective equipment (PPE) to enter the red zones where patients are treated

According to the World Health Organization, there are currently two approved Ebola vaccines, but they have been developed to be safe and protective against the Zaire strain of Ebola virus.

Unlike the previous Zaire Ebola virus, the Sudan strain currently circulating in Uganda has no effective treatment or approved vaccine. However, the country is about to roll out three trial vaccines that have been certified safe by the World Health Organization (WHO) working group.

The WHO said the first doses would be shipped to Uganda next week and the country expects to expand vaccine trials after assessing the results of the initial phase.

They are manufactured by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the Sabin Vaccine Institute USA and a third developed by the University of Oxford and the Jenner Institute UK.

“Our further tests are about efficacy and how long it protects. We’re looking at 3,000 contacts with confirmed cases, so we’ll do ring vaccination,” Aceng Ocero said, referring to a vaccine process that administers vaccines only to people who are in close contact with infected patients.

“When we have a confirmed case, the contacts are the ones who get the vaccine and they are followed for 29 days because we want to see if they can quickly produce antibodies and protect themselves against full-blown disease. Aceng Ocero added.

Public health officials believe cases are stabilizing due to increased vigilance, but tradition and religion hold back progress. A community in central Uganda’s Kassanda district has exhumed a body that was safely buried by health workers to perform religious rituals.

It led to “an explosion of more than 41 cases in 5 days and 10 deaths,” President Museveni said in his speech. He has now banned traditional healers and medicine men from taking on clients during the Ebola outbreak.

The number of infections is also on the rise, as it is difficult to tell people apart in close-knit communal environments. Robert Twinamasiko, a 30-year-old driver, receives treatment after helping an infected friend to an ambulance. The friend and another person involved both died.

Robert Twinamasiko, a 30-year-old driver, is being treated for Ebola after helping an infected friend to an ambulance.

Twinamasiko has been in hospital for 17 days, but says he has no regrets. Although he looked weak, he recovered and told CNN he was looking forward to going home.

“I’m just waiting for my bloodwork to be drained, but the world needs to know that Ebola is real,” he said from a red zone.

Uganda is also trying to contain the spread of the disease by closing the school year early to avoid an outbreak of Ebola in schools, which could prove difficult to contain. “If you have one student in a class who tests positive, the whole class has to be quarantined. But you will also not be 100% sure that that student has not had contact with other students outside that class,” explains Minister Aceng Ocero.

She said she was frustrated that Uganda was not getting enough credit internationally for managing the Ebola crisis. “We have experience. This is our eighth Ebola outbreak. Every time we get an outbreak, our experience increases,” she said.

Some global health experts have criticized Uganda’s initial response to the outbreak as slow and inept. Some partners in the donor and diplomatic community are also angry about the amount of information that the Ugandan authorities are sharing with them.

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