Uganda: Making progress on Ebola response

© Agus Morales/MSF— Inside the hospital of Kagadi town (in district of Kibaale, western Uganda), the centre of the Ebola outbreak.

The response to the Ebola epidemic that broke out at the end of July in western Uganda is moving forward thanks to the joint effort of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Ugandan Ministry of Health and other organisations. In approximately one week, the MSF emergency team has set up an Ebola treatment centre, isolated the patients that have contracted the virus from suspected cases and implemented a protection system for the health staff, the most vulnerable group in these types of outbreaks.

The epidemic is centred in the district of Kibaale. So far, 17 people have died. Nine patients have been admitted to the treatment centre, which has been set up on the premises of Kagadi hospital. Two of the patients have been confirmed as having Ebola, and the others are under observation and awaiting test results. The good news is that last week about 20 people were discharged, including a woman who had contracted Ebola, recovered and was ready to return home.

Psychological support of patients

“The fight to contain the epidemic is a complex process, but the fact that hospital admissions are decreasing suggests that transmission is happening at a low level,” says Paul Roddy, MSF epidemiologist. “So far, the outbreak has reached a 27 per cent fatality rate.”

In order to control the epidemic, MSF worked in close collaboration with the Ugandan Ministry of Health and other organisations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Ugandan Red Cross and the World Health Organization (WHO). One of the challenges is the provision of psychosocial support to the patients and their families. MSF and authorities are working to help ensure that patients are not rejected by their community when they return home. 

Raising awareness to prevent stigmatisation

“A man and three of his children had been admitted but the lab confirmed that they were not suffering from Ebola,” said Segimon Garcia, an information, communication and education officer. “An MoH [Ministry of Health] psychosocial team spoke with the neighbours of this family to explain that the family did not have Ebola. On 6 August, the family returned home in an MSF vehicle with psychologists in order to guarantee a proper reception.”

Ebola is a virus that was detected for the first time in humans in 1976 in Zaire, now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a haemorrhagic fever transmitted through body fluids. There is neither treatment nor vaccination and the mortality rate within the affected population varies based on the strain and other factors such as genetic susceptibility and simultaneous diseases; many people manage to survive. Raising awareness among the communities where epidemics break out is essential to prevent stigmatisation of patients and their families.