This follows conformation of yet another case in Ituri province which is only 70 km from the border with South Sudan and even closer to the Ugandan border. The first three cases of Ebola in the EAC region were diagnosed in Uganda last month and triggered strong response measures by the Ugandan government.
In the light of the recent Public Health Emergency of International Concern declared by the World Health Organization, Dr Michael Katende, the acting Head of Health at the EAC Secretariat has urged EAC Partner States to strongly engage communities in border regions, traders and trade associations on risk and crisis communication measures.
“This is particularly important, as most of the border line is porous and difficult to control,” he said, noting that informal and formal traders need to know the risk and be able to take informed decisions to minimise it and to actively take precautions.
EAC Partner States have put in place precautionary measures to stop the spread of EVD into the EAC region. This includes vaccinating frontline health workers, screening all travellers at points of entry including airports, and training the first responders in case of an outbreak. However, these measures might not be sufficient. Dr Katende was especially concerned about EVD spreading into South Sudan with its still rather weak health system.
Trade is vibrant between DRC and the EAC region and can exacerbate the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) due to the high mobility of people and goods.
The current outbreak in parts of eastern DR Congo has so far killed more than 1,600 people. Last week, the first case was detected in Goma, home to more than one million people.
The EAC Secretariat calls upon the Partner States to increase risk and crisis communication by involving community, religious and other leaders as well as the media in public awareness raising. At the same time, the Secretariat calls upon traders and trade associations and those travelling across the border with DRC to take extra precaution, as the EVD threat is real.
“All people crossing the border should cooperate with immigration, health and security officials who are conducting screening at the points of entry and should strictly follow their advice,” Dr Katende intoned.
People in affected regions should avoid unnecessary ‘body to body’ contact as this is the main way of disease transmission, he pointed out.
The public should be vigilant and immediately inform the nearest health workers when spot a person with signs of EVD, which are fever, severe headache, body weakness, fatigue, diarrhoea, vomiting and unexplained haemorrhage (bleeding or bruising) from various body outlets like the nose, ears and mouth. This is particularly important along the “green border” where no screening measures are in place, the Secretariat top medic added.