Uganda to begin Ebola vaccine programme in high risk areas

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Uganda is to administer an experimental Ebola vaccine for health workers in high-risk areas bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reports The Guardian. The vaccination programme launches with support from the World Health Organisation, targeting 2,000 front-line workers in districts close to DRC’s North Kivu province, which is currently experiencing an outbreak of the deadly virus.

The report says Uganda is the first country in the world to give the vaccine without an active outbreak of the disease, but is judged to be at very high risk. “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. “Scientists believe such invaluable lives would have been saved had a vaccine been in existence then.”

The report says in December 2000, Lukwiya, a medical superintendent of Lacor Hospital in the northern district of Gulu, died along with 12 nurses after contracting the highly contagious disease, which is transmitted through contact with body fluids. “The public health risk of cross border transmission of Ebola to Uganda (from DRC) was assessed to be very high at the national level,” said Jane Aceng, Uganda’s health minister. “The affected areas in the DRC (North Kivu and Ituri provinces) are about 100km from Uganda’s border districts,” she said.

“An undiagnosed Ebola patient could present to a health facility in Uganda for medical attention. This context puts the healthcare and frontline workers in Uganda at risk of being in contact with an (Ebola) case.”

The report says there are so far 239 confirmed cases in DRC in the latest flare-up, and 174 people have died from the disease.

The vaccine, developed by Merck, is not licensed but proved effective during limited trials in west Africa, where the biggest recorded outbreak of Ebola killed 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from 2014 to 2016.

“This particular vaccine is currently being administered in DRC, and is highly protective and has demonstrated potency against (the Zaire strain of) Ebola virus,” said Woldemariam.

The Guardian report

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