A five-year-old boy who tested positive for Ebola in Uganda has died, a health ministry official told said on Wednesday as two of his family members also tested positive for the virus after a visit to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. The World Health Organisation confirmed on Twitter that Uganda has now recorded three cases of Ebola, in the first spread across the country’s western border with the DRC where more than 2,000 cases of the highly contagious virus have been registered.
Uganda’s health ministry said on Tuesday that a woman of Congolese origin, who is married to a Ugandan, had gone with her child and four other family members to take care of her father in the DRC, who later died of Ebola. “The boy who tested positive for Ebola in Kasese yesterday passed last night in the isolation unit,” a health ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
“The minister for health – Ruth Aceng – will be briefing the country about the death of the boy and arrangements to bury the body.” The official said the child was likely to be buried Wednesday. DRC Health Minister Oly Ilunga Kalenga said the family were placed in isolation after being identified as in contact with an Ebola patient.
“During the isolation, some family members crossed into Uganda. As soon as they crossed, we contacted the Ugandan authorities,” he said in an interview Wednesday. Uganda’s health ministry said the family members had been identified and were placed in isolation in Bwera, a town near the border with DRC.
“Two more samples were sent to UVRI (Uganda Virus Research Institute) and have tested positive. We, therefore, have three confirmed cases of Ebola in Uganda,” the WHO Uganda posted on its Twitter account, citing a briefing from Ugandan Health Minister Ruth Aceng in Kasese in the country’s west.
Eight other people in contact with the family had been tracked down and were being monitored, the health ministry said.
East Africa on high alert due to the Ebola virus
East Africa has been on high alert since the outbreak in the eastern DRC. According to the WHO, Uganda vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers in 165 facilities with an experimental drug designed to protect them against the virus. South Sudan has also declared a state of alert and vaccinated health workers.
Uganda has experienced several outbreaks in the past, most recently in 2012, while in 2000 more than 200 people died in an outbreak in the north of the country. The Red Cross said it was scaling up efforts to contain the spread of the virus since it was detected in Uganda.
“This is a worrying development, but we have been preparing for this day for months now,” Robert Kwesiga, Uganda Red Cross Secretary General, said in a statement Wednesday. The DRC has struggled to contain the outbreak which was first recorded in North Kivu province and then spread to neighbouring Ituri and has left over 1,300 dead.
Efforts to tackle the crisis have been hampered both by militia attacks on treatment centres and by the hostility of some local people to the medical teams. Five workers have been killed, according to an AFP tally, and important preventative work, such as vaccination programmes and burials of Ebola victims, has been delayed.
The outbreak is the 10th in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the disease was identified in 1976. It is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014-2016, leaving more than 11,300 people dead.
Ebola is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person.