It’s been five years since the world’s largest Ebola virus outbreak, which happened in West Africa. Medical Teams was on the frontlines then, as we are now, for the second largest outbreak ever. This time the virus is spreading through the Congo, directly across the border from where we work in Uganda.
Why Ebola Spreads
Ebola is a highly contagious virus. The virus causes a severe fever and internal bleeding and is spread through contact with bodily fluids. Without prompt detection and treatment, the virus spreads quickly throughout families and communities.
Why is the virus spreading so fast in the Congo? An increase in insecurity and violence has disrupted efforts to contain the outbreak. Rebel groups target health facilities and workers as they attempt to treat Ebola cases. Every time a facility is attacked, precious time is lost in combating the outbreak. The sick are discouraged from seeking medical care, scared that they will be vulnerable to the violence. Health officials fear that this outbreak may spiral out of control if the violence does not stop.
On High Alert
Because of the conflict, thousands of Congolese are fleeing their homes, crossing over into Uganda. Medical Teams is the leading organization providing health screenings as refugees cross over.
“The country here is on high alert, expecting that at any time we’ll receive a confirmed case,” said Andrew Hoskins, country director for Medical Teams International in Uganda. Hoskins led Medical Teams’ Ebola response efforts in Liberia during the disease’s deadliest outbreak in modern history. That outbreak, spanning 2013 to 2016, cut a deadly path through West Africa, killing more than 11,000 people.
“Our goal is to be prepared for Ebola crossing the border. That means contain the outbreak and make sure it doesn’t become an epidemic,” Hoskins said. “Medical Teams International is working alongside the Uganda government to safely isolate and transport any suspected cases to regional hospitals, which have special wards dedicated to Ebola and other types of hemorrhagic fevers.”
Whenever a refugee crosses the border of Uganda, Medical Teams staff checks their temperature and monitors them for symptoms of the virus. We’ve also trained community health workers to educate community members about the signs of Ebola infection and what to do if a case is suspected.
Stories from Home
Every day, newly arrived refugees bring with them stories of Ebola’s fast spread in the Congo.
Patricia is a recent refugee from northeastern Congo, near one of the areas hit hardest by the disease outbreak.
“My friend’s husband was taken ill one afternoon. Initially they thought it was malaria because of the fever, then the bleeding started,” Patricia said. “The health workers seemed to know what was happening but instead of telling the family what was going on, they left the health center and didn’t return.”
With nobody to treat her friend’s husband, he went back home. Within a few days, his two children, 5 and 12 years old, started showing symptoms of Ebola.
“When the children became ill, that was the moment my friend and her husband realized this was Ebola,” Patricia said.
Instead of seeking further treatment, the father and mother set their house on fire. The entire family died in the blaze, Patricia said.
To stop horrific situations like that from happening in Uganda, Medical Teams’ staff are working overtime to safely prevent the spread of disease. Your support ensures we’re prepared if Ebola crosses over the border. If and when that happens, your compassion will prevent suffering and save lives.