Health workers in Uganda have begun vaccinating health workers at high risk of Ebola deadly virus infections this week. This is the first time that vaccination has begun before the actual outbreak.
These precautions are being taken because health workers are worried that the infection will spread to the country from the border along with the Democratic Republic of Congo. At present the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the worst. Fears of infection transmission through the border have increased due to armed conflict in the region, officials said.
Ebola virus attacks illustration of immune system: Image Credit: Crevis / Shutterstock
In the DRC to date, this season, around 300 cases of Ebola have been suspected with 265 cases of confirmed disease. The report of the World Health Organization (WHO) says that to date infections have killed 151 people in the country. In a WHO statement stated, "In vaccinating frontline health workers against Ebola virus disease even before Uganda detected a single case, health authorities were being careful after getting bitter lessons from the previous outbreak."
The vaccine being administered is still experimental but has proven to be protective in clinical trials. It will be managed only for around 2000 first contact health care workers working near the DRC border in the northern Kivu province to say WHO and will not be available to the general public.
"It is very possible that Uganda can import Ebola virus disease from the DRC given the proximity of the current epicenter, high population movements due to trade, socio-cultural connections and easy access to health services in Uganda," the WHO said. People in the DRC who have been in contact with Ebola patients have been vaccinated and those who have contact with this contact have also been vaccinated. This is called the "ring vaccination strategy" and is an effective method of combating highly contagious infectious diseases, officials said.
Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, WHO representative in Uganda said, "Previously [Ebola] Outbreaks, Uganda lost health workers, including the famous Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, because they took care of patients. Scientists believe that such an invaluable life will be saved if a vaccine already exists. "
Jane Aceng, Uganda's health minister in a statement added, "Public health risks from Ebola cross-border transmission to Uganda [from DRC] rated very high at the national level. Affected area in DRC [North Kivu and Ituri provinces] about 100 km from the Uganda border district. An undiagnosed Ebola patient can come to a health facility in Uganda to get medical treatment. This context places health workers and frontlines in Uganda at risk of coming into contact with [Ebola] case."
Ebola is a deadly viral infection that was first detected and identified in 1976. Since then there have been regular outbreaks in Central and Western African countries. Uganda was affected before 2000 and 2001 where infections killed 261 and infected 574 people. Infection killed 11,000 died in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and infected 28,000 in the period between 2014 and 2016.
This infection can kill 20 to 70 percent of those infected depending on the strain of the virus. After only infected management is available is supportive therapy. There are several experimental antibody-based therapies that are being tried in treating disease. Some of these combinations include ZMapp, REGN-EB3, antiviral remdesivir drugs and a single antibody drug called mAb114.
The latest vaccine to be managed has been developed by Merck and has not been licensed.