Uganda vaccinates at-risk health workers as Ebola spreads in Congo

An electron micrograph scan shows the Ebola virus emerging from an infected cell

NIAID NIHAn electron micrograph scan shows the Ebola virus emerging from an infected cell

It is one of the world's most virulent diseases and is transmitted through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids of infected people.

Uganda is to administer an experimental Ebola vaccine for health workers in high-risk areas bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

This is the first time that a vaccination drive has begun before the actual outbreak. "This context puts the healthcare and frontline workers in Uganda at risk of being in contact with an [Ebola] case".

No Ebola cases have been reported in Uganda, but the World Health Organization said communities on the DRC-Uganda border will likely be infected soon.

"In previous [Ebola] outbreaks, Uganda lost health workers, including the renowned Dr Matthew Lukwiya, as they cared for patients", said Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, WHO's Uganda representative.

Ebola was first reported in Congo in 1976 and is named for the river where it was recognized.

Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda's health minister, told reporters on Friday that with WHO's support, the east African country has procured over 2,100 of rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccines, and supplementary doses have been requested.

The vaccine is, therefore, being used on a compassionate basis, to protect persons at highest risk of the Ebola outbreak, under a "ring vaccination" strategy, which is similar to the approach used to eradicate smallpox. The vaccine was given to more than 16,000 volunteers in Africa, Europe and the United States in 2015, and was found to be effective against the Ebola virus.

Although several studies have shown that the vaccine is safe and protective against the Ebola virus, more scientific research is needed before it can be licensed. "Scientists believe such invaluable lives would have been saved had a vaccine been in existence then". "This is targeted vaccination", she emphasized.

The five districts prone to the disease include Ntoroko where the drive will start from on Wednesday, Kabarole, Bunyangabu, Kasese, and Buindibugyo.

Concerns that an undiagnosed Ebola patient may arrive at a health facility seeking treatment led to the decision to vaccinate health care workers at the highest risk of contracting the highly-infectious hemorrhagic fever, in 40 facilities near the border.

He assured of its potency and ability to protect them effectively.

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