September 20, 2018 / 5:19 PM / in a month

Uganda to deploy Ebola vaccine if virus spreads from Congo

DAKAR (Reuters) - Uganda will vaccinate against Ebola should it spread from Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been hit twice this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

A medical worker wears a protective suit as he prepares to administer Ebola patient care at The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) treatment center in Beni, North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Fiston Mahamba

Uganda borders Congo’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces, where Ebola is believed to have killed 97 people since the latest outbreak started in July, and infected another 45.

A death from Ebola was recorded this month in the Congolese city of Butembo , which is a hub for Congolese mineral exports and imports from East African ports via Uganda.

In a statement on Thursday, the WHO said it was assisting Uganda, which has remained clear of Ebola so far this year, to set up the “ring vaccination” strategy being used in Congo.

Under the strategy, every contact of an Ebola case including health workers and family members is traced and vaccinated.

“The opportunity that vaccinating frontline health workers and ring vaccination provides to contain the disease (...) is one that must never be missed. That’s why we are making all these costly but necessary preparations”, WHO’s Uganda Representative Yonas Tegegn Woldermariam said in the statement.

Uganda has identified spaces to store the vaccine and installed equipment to ensure it can be transported nationwide.

Uganda has had five outbreaks since 2000, the latest in 2017. The contagious disease causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. Ebola killed 11,300 in West Africa in 2013-2016, though treatment during that outbreak was less advanced.

The experimental vaccine, manufactured by Merck, was first deployed to the Congo this year. It is designed to target the Zaire strain of the virus, which was confirmed to have caused Congo’s current outbreak.

Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Writing by Sofia Christensen

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