A 5-year-old boy vomiting blood became the first cross-border victim in the current outbreak of Ebola on Wednesday while his 3-year-old brother and grandmother was positively investigated for the disease that killed nearly 1,400 people in the Congo.
The spread of the Uganda epidemic has prompted the World Health Organization to reconsider whether the second-biggest epidemic of Ebola in history should be declared a global emergency medical aid. A WHO Expert Committee gathers Friday. Such declarations almost always increase attention and donor funding.
The boy's mother took him with his brother from Uganda to Congo, where her father was ill. The WHO said he had died of an Ebola, and officials believe that those who complain about him are also infected.
The family is then transferred back to Uganda via an unguarded walkway, bypassing official border posts where health workers have inspected millions of travelers since the outbreak in August.
Authorities in both countries are now promising to enhance border security.
Experts have long feared that erosion could spread to neighboring countries because of rebel attacks and community resistance that make it harder for detention in the eastern Congo, one of the world's most turbulent regions. The virus can spread rapidly through close contact with body fluids of the infected and can be fatal in up to 90% of cases.
The mother and grandmother of the five-year-old boy, along with several other children, were stopped at a border checkpoint before going to Uganda. A dozen of them have already shown symptoms of Ebola.
The Congolese Health Ministry said the 12 people were living in an isolation center, but they were actually told to stay where they stay until a transport department for treatment of the erb is found, said Dr. Dominique Cabongo, a local Reaction Response Coordinator. Press.
Instead, six family members quietly crossed Uganda.
"Many people are avoiding (border) customs and using small paths, and it's hard for us to track contacts," Cabongo said.
Upon his arrival in Uganda, where the authorities were warned by Congolese counterparts, the boy was treated while relatives were isolated and tested. The boy's uncle is among the seven alleged cases found in Uganda.
On the Congo side, five family members who have not gone to Uganda have given positive results for the Ebola, health ministers said. He cites the East African nation's attempt to fight the previous outbreaks of Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers.
This outbreak "will not go beyond" the boy's family in Uganda, he added. While the authorities promised to close unauthorized intersections, a police reporter in the border area where the family was crossing was watching surveillance teams patrolling Uganda. Some paths, however, remained unprotected. Some people cross the shallow Lyubira River.
"Persecution of the Congolese" is a challenge in screening, said a Ugandan Red Cross official, Francis Tumein, at a border crossing last week. "They have failed to understand that the Ebola is there, they think they are killing witchcraft."
One congolean merchant, Muhindo Kaongzekela, adds, "We are not sure if Ebola is in the Congo." In Congo, if they find a headache, they lead to the hospital and later say they have died from Ebola.
This is the first time this troubled part of the huge Congo, a veteran of several Ebola outbreaks, survived the virus.
The resilience of local residents by the authorities has hurt efforts to contain the epidemic when a widely used experimental but effective Ebola vaccine is first used. More than 130,000 people have received the vaccine.
Uganda is more stable than the eastern Congo and has vaccinated nearly 4,700 health workers. The WHO sends another 3,500 doses this week to healthcare workers and the contacts of infected people.
The WHO Expert Committee has twice decided that this epidemic, although a "deep concern", is not yet a global emergency medical aid. But international dissemination is one of the key criteria that the UN agency is considering before making a declaration. The WHO has recommended that no travel restrictions be imposed.
The first cross-border case is "tragic, but unfortunately not surprising," said Dr. Jeremy Farar with Wellcome Trust, who funded research into the Ebola vaccine.
While Uganda is well prepared, he adds, "we can expect and need to plan more cases in (Congo) and neighboring countries." This epidemic is in a really frightening phase and shows no signs of stopping at any time.