Health workers in Uganda have started vaccinating high-risk health workers against deadly viral infections of Ebola this week. This is the first time that vaccination began before the actual outbreak.
This precautionary measure is being taken, as health care officials are worried that the infection will spread to the land from the borders that are shared with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the worst. Fear of transferring infections across borders raises armed clashes in the region, officials say.
Ebola virus attacks imaging system image: Image Credit: Crevis / Shutterstock
In DR Congo this season, about 300 cases of Ebola are suspected in 265 confirmed cases of illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) report has revealed that up to date, 151 people have been reported to be infected in the country. In a statement, the WHO states: "In vaccinating the frontline of medical workers against the Ebola virus even before Uganda discovered one case, health authorities carefully learned bitter lessons from previous epidemics."
The vaccine being administered is still experimental, but it has been shown to be protective in clinical trials. It will manage only about 2,000 first contact health professionals working near the DRC border in the northern province of Kivu, according to WHO, and would not be available for the wider public.
"It is very likely that Uganda can bring the Ebola virus from DRC, given the close of the current epicenter, the large population movement due to trade, socio-cultural ties and easier access to health services in Uganda," WHO said. Individuals in DR Congo who were in contact with the Ebola patient were vaccinated and those in contact with these contacts were also vaccinated. This is called "ring vaccination strategy" and is an effective method of eradication of highly contagious infectious diseases, officials say.
Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, representative of the World Health Organization in Uganda, said: "In the past [Ebola] refugees, Uganda lost health professionals, including the famous Dr. Matthew Lukwiy, because they were caring for the patients. Scientists believe that such invaluable lives would be saved, then there was a vaccine. "
Uganda Health Minister Jane Aceng said in a statement: "The public health risk of Ebola cross-border transfer in Uganda [from DRC] was rated very high at the national level. Afflicted areas in Congo [North Kivu and Ituri provinces] are about 100 km from Uganda's peripheral districts. An unwanted patient Ebola could present a health institution in Uganda for medical help. This context puts health workers and frontline workers in Uganda at risk of getting in touch with [Ebola] case."
Ebola is a deadly viral infection that was first discovered and identified in 1976. Since then, there have been regular epidemics across central and western African countries. Uganda was hit before 2000 and 2001 where the infection killed 261 and infected 574 people. The infection killed 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and infected 28,000 in the period from 2014 to 2016.
The infection is capable of killing 20 to 70 percent of those who are infected depending on the strain of the virus. One-on-one management only available support is supportive therapy. There are some experimental therapies based on antibodies that are being treated. Some of these combinations include ZMapp, REGN-EB3, remedial antiviral medicine, and a single antibody mAb114 drug.
This latest vaccine to be applied has been developed by Merck and is not yet licensed.