Earlier this week, officials in Uganda confirmed the country’s first cases of Ebola—a deadly virus that has been raging in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) since August 2018. The stricken patients—a 5-year-old boy and his grandmother—both passed away, according to the Ministry of Health.
The global Red Cross Red Crescent network is on high alert.
“This is a worrying development, but we have been preparing for this day for months now,” says Robert Kwesiga, Uganda Red Cross Secretary General, whose teams have been prepping for the cross-border spread of Ebola since August.
Ebola preparedness efforts in Uganda—as well as Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan—include training volunteers on screening at border points, risk communication and community engagement, community-based surveillance, and mental health support. The Red Cross has prepositioned supplies for safe and dignified burials, which are critical to mitigating the spread of Ebola. Teams are also providing technical support to Ministry of Health, which will take the lead on the delivery of safe and dignified burials in Uganda.
Ebola’s Spread from DR Congo to Uganda
The Uganda border is close to the epicenter of the DR Congo outbreak, which is now the second largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded, with nearly 2,100 cases and more than 1,400 deaths. Communities living close to the DR Congo’s border share many social, cultural and economic connections, which puts many at heightened risk of being exposed to Ebola.
The risk of further spread of Ebola in Uganda and other neighboring countries remains high. The increased movement of population between DR Congo and Uganda and other neighboring countries puts many at heightened risk of being exposed. This is further complicated by the violence and insecurity in DR Congo, which makes contract tracing challenging and forces thousands to flee to bordering countries—particularly Uganda.
Local Knowledge and Skills are Key to Preventing the Spread of Ebola
Uganda Red Cross has a strong in-country capacity to respond to Ebola, with volunteers across the country. More than 360 of these local Red Cross volunteers have received specialized training to respond to Ebola and support communities impacted by the disease. They are going door-to-door, ensuring that families know the facts about Ebola and understand how to prevent its spread. Their local knowledge and experience will be crucial in the fight against this outbreak. Red Cross teams in Uganda played a key role in containing the last five Ebola outbreaks, the last which ended in 2012. The Red Cross has also responded to other hemorrhagic fever outbreaks, including Marburg in 2017.
American Red Cross contributes to the Ebola response in DR Congo
For its part, the American Red Cross has contributed $250,000 to support the DR Congo Red Cross as it responds to the immediate needs of people impacted by the latest outbreaks of Ebola. The American Red Cross deployed a disaster response specialist following a different outbreak that began in May in DR Congo.
This isn’t the first time Red Cross and Red Crescent teams have worked together to fight the virus. The world suffered its deadliest Ebola outbreak from 2014-2016. The nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were hit hard by the crisis, which claimed more than 10,000 lives. The global Red Cross network deployed nearly 400 international staff to the region, trained more than 6,000 volunteers, and opened two Ebola treatment centers in Sierra Leone. The American Red Cross joined the response by deploying disaster specialists to the outbreak zone and providing financial & technical support.