MPONDWE, Uganda – On Tuesdays and Fridays, an estimated 19,000 people pour down the mountain from the province of North Kivu to the Congo to cross the border with this small town, many of which head for a large open-air market
In recent weeks, the Ugandan health authorities have tightened precautions against the spread of the Ebola virus, making it harder to cross the border. An outbreak in northern Kivu is responsible for 105 confirmed or suspected cases, including 67 deaths, according to Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who has just returned from the area.
Uganda is determined to prevent the deadly hemorrhagic fever from spreading to its side of the border. Before travelers are allowed to pass, they have to step into small tubs of chlorinated water to disinfect their shoes, and their temperatures are measured with no-touch thermometer guns at their temples.
Uganda moved quickly and forced the arrangements one week after the recent outbreak on 1 August. It has found six suspected cases at this junction, but lab tests have cleared them all.
"So far we have not had a case of Ebola," said Ithungu Honorata, a nurse who oversees the screening, said Friday. "But we do not want it to come to Uganda."
The latest Ebola outbreak, the 10th Congo, was declared only a week after the destruction of a smaller one in another part of the country.
It Comes Four Years After the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea killed more than 11,000 people, sickened more than 28,000, and caused panic about travel to other parts of the world, including the United States.
The current outbreak continues to escalate Redfield and non-governmental organization workers who have intervened to treat victims and disrupt the spread of the disease.
"Really, in two weeks we have gone from 24 cases to 105 cases," said Redfield, chiefly due to many health problems. Workers at a hospital in the city of Mangina, where the outbreak started, became infected when treating early patients without realizing that they had Ebola and therefore did not take sufficient precautions. The disease spreads through exposure to the victim's body fluids and is the most vulnerable to the health care workers and family members of the patients.
"In the next few weeks, we will have more clarity about the scope of the problem, Redfield
"The scary thing is that we already have over 100 cases," said Michelle Gayer, director of emergency medicine at the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization that helps out in the region, but said it will take another week for the health authorities to respond
"Everyone is worried that cases are still coming," said Karin Huster, Emergency Coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, who is in Beni, a city in the affected area of the area Congo
Several factors make this outbreak challenging: the years-long conflict between militias and The government has mobilized a large number of people and weakened the region's health infrastructure. The instability also makes it difficult to travel to remote areas where cases like Oicha have been discovered without military protection.
But unlike four years ago, when Ebola trickled through part of West Africa, the authorities now have a vaccine and several experimental treatments developed during the break.
Redfield said that nearly 3,000 people have been vaccinated, with 400 to 600 more receiving the vaccine every day.
Over a dozen confirmed cases have been treated with two experimental therapies, including one developed at the US National Institutes of Health. All treated patients are alive, he said.