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Africa

Uganda: 9-year-old girl dies of Ebola

media Mpondwe border post, where Ebola checks are regularly conducted. REUTERS/James Akena

A hospital official in Uganda said a nine-year-old girl died of Ebola, just one day after testing positive for the haemorrahagic disease as she crossed the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda.

The girl was screened at the Mpondwe border post as she tried to cross into Uganda with her mother on 28 August and immediately put into isolation in Kasese district, some 470km west of Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

Earlier Friday, Uganda’s Health Ministry said the girl would be sent back to the DRC for treatment.

According to the World Health Organization, the infectious disease has nearly 2,000 people over the past year in the DRC, and this young girl’s death adds to the fear that the outbreak could hit neighbouring countries.

Ugandan health officials believe she was not in contact with Ugandan nationals, as the disease is spread when a person has been in contact with infected body fluids.

The girl’s body will be repatriated back to DRC with her mother for her funeral, said Congolese Ebola representative in Kasindi, Dr. Eddy Kasenda.

"We are finalizing the administrative formalities so that the body is repatriated and buried here in Congo, her native country," said Kasenda, speaking from Kasindi, a border town.

"We are collaborating with the health services of neighboring Uganda and we will strengthen the sanitary measures here in Kasindi," he added.

Everyone crossing the border must be screened to make sure they have not been infected with Ebola. Health screeners take the person’s temperature and then the traveler must disinfect their hands. If someone has a temperature, they go through a second check.

Porous border

Many people travel by night, crossing the porous border on foot by using bush paths.

The little girl is not the first person to die of Ebola in Uganda during this year-long outbreak, however. Two people who had come from DRC to visit family in Uganda died there, while the third person travelling with them died after being sent back to the Congo. All three tested positive for Ebola.

The eastern DRC-Uganda border is a busy one -- some 18,000 people travel back and forth every day, including schoolchildren, according to government figures.

Uganda is very aware of the devastation of Ebola, where a number of outbreaks have occurred since 2000.

It is also the home of donor-funded Uganda Virus Research Institute, a viral testing laboratory. This coupled with an emergency response plan has kept Ebola at bay for now.

WHO calls for help

Although some 200,000 people in the region have been given the Ebola vaccine, the number of infected keep rising: WHO said on Friday that 3,000 people have been infected in the eastern DRC, the epicenter of this outbreak, with 1,893 dead and 900 who survived. Most of the people infected come from the North Kivu province, while some 80 people per week are becoming infected.

The insecurity in the area as rebel groups fight for control of minerals has also hindered the response, as well as the general mistrust of healthcare professionals.

On Friday, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on non-governmental organisation partners to increase their presence in the field.

"Our commitment to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is that we will work alongside them to stop the Ebola outbreak," said Tedros. 

"Our commitment also means strengthening the health systems to give them all the other things they need,” he added.

He will travel this weekend to DRC with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other senior officials, including Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

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