Health workers in Uganda started this week to vaccinate high-risk health care workers from the deadly Ebola viral infection. This is the first time that vaccination has started before the outbreak of the disease.
This precaution is being taken because health officials fear that the infection would spread to the national territory from the borders sharing with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Currently, the outbreak of the epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the worst. Concerns about the transmission of infections across borders are compounded by armed conflicts in the region, officials say.
The Ebola virus attacks the immune system illustration: Image Credit: Crevis / Shutterstock
In DRC, about 300 cases of Ebola with 265 confirmed cases of the disease were suspected this season. The World Health Organization (WHO) report says that up to now, the infection killed 151 people in this country. In a statement, WHO states: "When vaccinating health workers on the first line against the Ebola virus, before Uganda detects a single case, the health authorities carefully draw lessons from previous epidemics."
The administered vaccine is still experimental, but has been shown to be protective in clinical trials. It will be given to only around 2,000 first-contact workers who work near the DRC in the northern province of Kivu, says WHO, and will not be available to the general public.
"It is highly likely that Uganda can import Ebola virus from the DRC due to the proximity of the current epicenter, high population movements caused by trade, socio-cultural links and easy access to health services in Uganda," said WHO. People in the DRC who have been in contact with a patient with Ebola have been vaccinated and people who have been in contact with these have also been vaccinated. This is called the "ring vaccination strategy" and is an effective method of combating highly contagious infectious diseases, officials say.
Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, a representative of Uganda from the WHO, said: "In the previous one [Ebola] epidemics, Uganda lost health professionals, including the famous Dr. Matthew Lukwii, because they took care of patients. Researchers are convinced that such an invaluable life would be saved if there was a vaccine at the time.
Jane Aceng, health minister of Uganda, added in her statement: "Public health risks related to the cross-border transmission of the Ebola virus to Uganda [from DRC] was rated as very high at the national level. Affected areas in the DRC [North Kivu and Ituri provinces] they are about 100 km from the border districts of Uganda. An unrecognized ebola patient may report to a health center in Uganda for medical assistance. In this context, health professionals and medical personnel are exposed to contact in Uganda [Ebola] suitcase."
Ebola is a deadly viral infection that was first detected and identified in 1976. Since then, regular epidemics have been reported in the countries of Central and Western Europe. Uganda was affected earlier in 2000 and 2001, when the infection killed 261 and infected 574 people. The infection killed 11,000 people who died in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and infected 28,000 in the period from 2014 to 2016.
An infection can kill between 20 and 70 percent of infected people depending on the virus strain. After infection, only supportive treatment is available. There are some experimental antibody-based therapies that are tested to treat the disease. Some of these combinations include ZMapp, REGN-EB3, remizivir of antiviral drugs and a single antibody drug called mAb114.
The last vaccine to be administered was developed by Merck and is not yet licensed.