Ebola. Picture: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER
Ebola. Picture: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER

Kampala — Authorities repatriated the relatives of two people who died of Ebola in Uganda back to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday, including a three-year-old boy confirmed to be suffering from the disease, the Ugandan health minister said.

The cases marked the first time the virus has crossed an international border since the current outbreak began in DRC in August 2018. The epidemic has already killed 1,390 people in eastern DRC.

The family sent home on Thursday had crossed from DRC to Uganda earlier this week and sought treatment when a five-year-old boy became unwell. He died of Ebola on Tuesday. His 50-year-old grandmother, who was accompanying them, died of the disease on Wednesday, the ministry said.

They were the first confirmed deaths in Uganda in the current Ebola outbreak.

The dead boy's father, mother, three-year-old brother and their six-month-old baby, along with the family's domestic worker, were all repatriated, the minister's statement said.

The three-year-old has been confirmed to be infected with Ebola and his Ugandan father has displayed symptoms. His test results were due later on Thursday.

"Uganda remains in Ebola response-mode to follow up the 27 contacts [of the family]," the statement said.

Three other suspected Ebola cases not related to the family remain in isolation, the ministry said.

The viral disease spreads through contact with bodily fluids, causing haemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.

Uganda precautions

Authorities in neighbouring Uganda and South Sudan have been on high alert in case the disease spreads.

On Thursday, Uganda banned public gatherings in the Kasese district, where the family crossed the border. Residents are also taking precautions, local journalist Ronald Kule said.

"They are a little alarmed now and they realise that the risk of catching Ebola is now real," he said. "Hand washing facilities have been put in place, with washing materials like Jik and soap. There's no shaking of hands, people just wave at each other."

At the border, health workers checked lines of people and isolated one child with a raised temperature, a Reuters journalist said.

Uganda has already vaccinated many frontline health workers and is relatively well prepared to contain the virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has brought in 4,000 additional vaccines and will begin vaccinating more people on Friday.

The WHO has said it will reconvene an emergency committee on Friday to decide whether the outbreak is an international public health emergency and how to manage it.

Authorities have struggled to contain the disease partly because health workers have been attacked nearly 200 times this year in conflict-hit eastern DRC, the epicentre of the outbreak. 

Reuters