In Uganda, officials have stepped up measures to prevent an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Ebola has infected 319 people in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo since August, killing 198. The border between the countries remains open, and health experts fear the virus will enter Uganda through the cross-border traffic.
The Lamia River marks the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ebola-infected North Kivu Province and Uganda.
Despite the deadly viral outbreak, Uganda’s Health Ministry says 20,000 people cross the border every week, putting the country at high risk.
Ugandan Jane Biira goes to the DRC side at least twice a week to buy food and charcoal to sell back home.
“We have heard the disease is there but, we have to go out and trade. We are only a little scared, because we have never seen anyone fall ill with Ebola where we go. We buy the merchandise and leave.”
When Biira and others cross into Uganda they get checked at screening points by health care workers and volunteers, like Boaz Balimaka.
“We have the hand-washing, then disinfecting the feet, and screening, then we allow somebody to pass.”
While no Ebola cases have yet been detected in Uganda, it can take up to three weeks for symptoms to appear.
The virus causes a severe hemorrhagic fever that kills at least half the people who become infected.
Even with border screenings, Butogo Town Council head John Kandole says they worry someone with Ebola could slip through.
“Somebody who comes from Congo, we don’t shake with him with hands. Once he comes to buy anything, he buy and go. And the money sometimes we have been fearing to get.”
Uganda’s Health Ministry is stepping up preventive measures by deploying an experimental Ebola vaccine for health care and front-line workers along the border.
Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s health minister, says vaccines are also on standy-by.
“Currently, in Uganda we have 2,100 doses of the vaccine available at the National Medical Stores, and preparations are in high gear, including training of the health workers that are to be targeted.”
A 2007 Ebola outbreak in Uganda, in the border town of Bundibugyo, infected 149 people, killed 37, and took several weeks to be contained.