By Our Health Reporter
DailyNewsUG |KAMPALA| Uganda has given the World Health Organisation (WHO) a go-ahead to administer an investigational Ebola vaccine in high risk areas neighbouring the DRC, where the outbreak has already claimed 170 lives.
Uganda will become the first country in the world to give the vaccine against Ebola without experiencing an active outbreak. The vaccine, is already being given out in the DRC.
“Considering the high risk that it could cross over from the DRC, Ugandan government officials have agreed to use the vaccine. The focus will be on the first ones who will see patients, or who will be involved in screening and burials,” Yonas Woldermariam, the World Health Organization Representative in Uganda told the BBC’s Patience Atuhaire in an interview.
Ebola vaccine provides protection and hope for high-risk communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Ring vaccination is a new and vital tool in the control of Ebola,” said Dr Michael Ryan, WHO Assistant Director-General, Emergency Preparedness and Response. “I just spent the day out with the vaccination teams in the community, and for the first time in my experience, I saw hope in the face of Ebola and not terror. This is a major milestone for global public health.”
The ring vaccination is led by the National Institute of Biomedical Research and the Ministry of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is working with a wide range of partners, including WHO, Médecins sans Frontières and UNICEF. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, contributed funds towards the operational costs, and through an agreement with Merck, the vaccine developer, helped ensure that 300 000 investigational doses of the vaccine are available in case of an outbreak. The vaccination is being provided to the contacts of confirmed cases, and the contacts of contacts, as well as healthcare workers, front line responders and other people with potential exposure to Ebola.
The inaugural Ebola vaccination exercise against the deadly Ebola haemorrhagic fever (EHF) in Uganda, starts on Monday next week.
Uganda neighbours the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has been affected by the diseases for several years.
Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Health Minister said on Friday that only healthcare and frontline workers in the five high risk districts virus will receive the rVSV vaccine.
“As a neighbour to the DRC, Uganda is on high alert due to the high risk of the Ebola threat,” Dr Aceng said during a press conference at the Uganda Media Centre.
Dr Aceng said there is no confirmed Ebola case in Uganda adding that they are actively searching for cases in all communities, health facilities and at formal and informal border crossings in high risk districts of Kabaraole, Bunyangabo, Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko.
In August, an outbreak of Ebola was confirmed in DRC. It is currently affecting DRC’s north-eastern provinces that border Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.
By November 1, 2018, DRC had registered 285 cases. Two hundred and fifty cases were confirmed and the death toll stood at 180 people. Another 41 suspected cases are under investigation.
Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in Uganda, said the vaccine is safe with an efficacy level of over 90 per cent.
He said ten days after it’s administered, it remains effective in the body for 12 months.
“There are no major risks recorded up to now. Once one is vaccinated, there could be just a normal reaction and that’s why we follow up those who have been vaccinated,” Dr Tegegn said.
He said the vaccine is limited to a given portion of the population because it’s very scarce.
2,100 doses of the vaccine donated by the US-based Merck Company through WHO are already in the country.
Other African countries which have used the vaccine include Guinea and DRC.
Meanwhile, the DRC Ebola outbreak is not a global emergency ‘at this time’ WHO, said earlier.
“Based on the current context… the committee recommended that the current Ebola outbreak in DRC does not constitute a public health emergency of international concern,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“I have accepted the recommendation of the committee,” he told reporters in Geneva following a meeting of the UN agency’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee.
In the WHO’s parlance, “a public health emergency of international concern” is an “extraordinary event” in which a disease may spread across borders and requires a vigorous international response.