June 20, 2024

U.S. takes partial credit for end of Ebola outbreak in Uganda, ends screening for travelers from Uganda

Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International development Samantha Power
Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International development Samantha Power

The United States government on Wednesday took partial credit for the end of the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, saying that it provided more than $29 million to the East African nation and neighboring countries to beat the deadly disease. The government added that it has also ended arrival Ebola screening for travelers from Uganda.

Last October, the Biden administration started redirecting U.S.-bound travelers who had been to Uganda within the previous 21 days to five major American airports to be screened for Ebola.

However, the Department of Homeland Security said that the restrictions were no longer necessary because as of late November, there have been no new confirmed Ebola disease cases reported in Uganda and that two 21-day incubation periods have passed.

In Washington, the Biden administration said that it helped end Ebola outbreak in Uganda with money and other types of support.

“The United States was quick to support the Ugandan government’s response with immediate and life-saving assistance to the people of Uganda, helping contain the outbreak from spreading across borders,” said the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International development Samantha Power. “USAID provided more than $22 million for response efforts in Uganda, including contributions from our Emergency Reserve Fund for infectious disease outbreaks.”

She said that the United States also provided another $7 million to help neighboring countries—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Sudan—prepare for a potential outbreak spread across borders. 

Power added, “These investments included providing seven million people with crucial information on recognizing symptoms of illness and preventing the spread of Ebola; delivering more than 15,500 sets of personal protective equipment and related supplies to protect doctors, nurses, community health workers and others on the front lines of the response; and offering mental health support and assistance for survivors to reintegrate back into their communities, where they often face stigma upon their return.”

“As we celebrate this milestone, we extend our deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones to this disease. This crisis was a reminder that we must redouble our efforts to prevent and urgently respond to infectious disease outbreaks, and the United States is committed to that goal,” added Power, who also noted that “USAID recently announced an expansion to the U.S. global health security program in 50 countries—which included the establishment of an Outbreak Response Team that worked with the Uganda mission to coordinate the Ebola response. These investments are instrumental in saving lives by quickly containing public health threats.

Uganda on Wednesday declared the end of the Ebola disease outbreak caused by Sudan ebolavirus, less than four months after the first case was confirmed in the country’s central Mubende district on September 20, 2022.

“Uganda put a swift end to the Ebola outbreak by ramping up key control measures such as surveillance, contact tracing and infection, prevention and control. While we expanded our efforts to put a strong response in place across the nine affected districts, the magic bullet has been our communities who understood the importance of doing what was needed to end the outbreak, and took action,” said Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Acero, Uganda’s Minister of Health.

June 27, 2016, Rome, Italy - Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Minister of Health of Uganda. Opening session. Codex Alimentarius Commission, 39th Session (CAC39). FAO headquarters (Plenary hall): Photo credit - FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto.
June 27, 2016, Rome, Italy – Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Minister of Health of Uganda. Opening session. Codex Alimentarius Commission, 39th Session (CAC39). FAO headquarters (Plenary hall): Photo credit – FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto.

It was the country’s first Sudan ebolavirus outbreak in a decade and its fifth overall for this kind of Ebola. In total there were 164 cases (142 confirmed and 22 probable), 55 confirmed deaths and 87 recovered patients. More than 4000 people who came in contact with confirmed cases were followed up and their health monitored for 21 days. Overall, the case-fatality ratio was 47%. The last patient was released from care on 30 November when the 42-day countdown to the end of the outbreak began.

Health authorities showed strong political commitment and implemented accelerated public health actions. People in the hot-spot communities of Mubende and Kasanda experienced restricted movements. 

“I congratulate Uganda for its robust and comprehensive response which has resulted in today’s victory over Ebola,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Uganda has shown that Ebola can be defeated when the whole system works together, from having an alert system in place, to finding and caring for people affected and their contacts, to gaining the full participation of affected communities in the response. Lessons learned and the systems put in place for this outbreak will protect Ugandans and others in the years ahead.”

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanmon Ghebreyesus speaks during the Strategic Roundtable discussion “A Healthy Return: investing in a sustainably financed WHO” on 23 May 2022 at the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. Expert reports have highlighted the mismatch between what the world needs from WHO and, in particular, its role leading the multilateral response to health emergencies, and the way it is currently funded. In January 2021 the Working Group on Sustainable Financing was set up to look afresh at the issue and it makes substantive recommendations in a report to be discussed at this Assembly. The discussion included the formal launch of ‘A Healthy Return: investing in a sustainably financed WHO’, the new WHO investment case. It also spotlighted the Results Report 2020-2021 ‘For a Safer, Healthier and Fairer world’ as an example of the commitment of the Secretariat to enhanced accountability, transparency and reporting on results. https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2022/05/23/default-calendar/strategic-roundtables-seventy-fifth-world-health-assembly

This Ebola outbreak was caused by the Sudan ebolavirus, one of six species of the Ebola virus against which no therapeutics and vaccines have been approved yet. However, Uganda’s long experience in responding to epidemics allowed the country to rapidly strengthen critical areas of the response and overcome the lack of these key tools.

“With no vaccines and therapeutics, this was one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks in the past five years, but Uganda stayed the course and continuously fine-tuned its response. Two months ago, it looked as if Ebola would cast a dark shadow over the country well into 2023, as the outbreak reached major cities such as Kampala and Jinja, but this win starts off the year on a note of great hope for Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. 

Soon after Uganda declared the Sudan ebolavirus outbreak, WHO worked with a large range of partners, including vaccines developers, researchers, donors and the Ugandan health authorities to identify candidate therapeutics and vaccines for inclusion in trials. Three candidate vaccines were identified and over 5000 doses of these arrived in the country with the first batch on 8 December and the last two on 17 December. The speed of this collaboration marks a milestone in the global capacity to respond to rapidly evolving outbreaks and prevent them from becoming larger.

“While these candidate vaccines were not used during this outbreak, they remain the contribution of Uganda and partners to the fight against Ebola. The next time the Sudan ebolavirus strikes we can reignite the robust cooperation between developers, donors and health authorities and dispatch the candidate vaccines,” said Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, WHO Representative in Uganda.  

WHO and partners supported Ugandan health authorities from the outset of the outbreak, deploying experts, providing training in contact tracing, testing and patient care, as well as building isolation and treatment centres and providing laboratory testing kits. Due to the joint efforts, the processing time for Ebola samples dropped from a few days to six hours. WHO helped to protect frontline health workers by organizing a steady supply of personal protective equipment. The Organization provided nearly US$ 6.5 million to Uganda’s response and an additional US$ 3 million to support readiness in six neighbouring countries. 

Although the outbreak in Uganda has been declared over, health authorities are maintaining surveillance and are ready to respond quickly to any flare-ups. A follow-up programme has been put in place to support survivors. Neighbouring countries remain on alert and are encouraged to continue strengthening their capacities to detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

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