The latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has officially become an international problem, with three confirmed cases in neighboring Uganda confirmed as of today. Tragically, one of those confirmed cases includes a 5-year-old boy who died from the illness.
The infected 5-year-old traveled from the DRC with family members on June 10, according to a statement from Uganda’s Minister of Health or on June 9, according to the World Health Organization, which gave a conflicting report. The child entered Uganda from DRC at the Bwera Border point of entry and sought help at Kagando hospital where he died.
The mother of the 5-year-old child is Congolese, and the boy’s grandfather previously died of Ebola in the DRC. The boy was traveling with as many as 14 other family members, 12 of whom were symptomatic and are currently being tested for Ebola. The symptomatic family members are being held in isolation.
The World Health Organization declined to declare Ebola a global health emergency back in April, largely because Ebola hadn’t yet traveled across international borders. That could change very quickly now that the virus has crossed into Uganda.
The current Ebola outbreak, which started 10 months ago, is so far the second worst in history, with 2,071 cases and 1,396 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization. But the number of cases climbs every single day in the war-torn region, where widespread violence by rebel groups and the rapid spread of misinformation has contributed to the outbreak.
The worst Ebola outbreak in history occurred in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, infecting nearly 30,000 people and killing more than 11,000.
The nonprofit International Rescue Committee issued a statement calling for the international community to “reset,” which appears to be diplomatic speak for “pull your head out of your ass and pay attention.”
“We are closely monitoring the situation and will continue to support communities and national and international efforts to contain the outbreak.,” International Rescue Committee said in a statement. “The IRC has been working to combat the disease in North Kivu and Ituri, DRC since the outbreak was declared in August last year. The spread of Ebola across the international border is a clear signal that the international community must reset and redouble its efforts.”
Despite the fact that Ebola hadn’t hit Uganda until this week, the country has been proactive about protecting its population. The director-general of the World Health Organization reports that almost 4,700 health workers have been vaccinated in roughly 165 health facilities around the country. The experimental Ebola vaccine isn’t foolproof, but it’s been tremendously effective in helping to control the spread of the virus.
“The Ministry of Health and WHO have dispatched a Rapid Response Team to Kasese to identify other people who may be at risk, and ensure they are monitored and provided with care if they also become ill,” WHO said in a press release. “Uganda has previous experience managing Ebola outbreaks.”
On top of it all, DRC is also dealing with a measles outbreak that has so far infected an estimated 87,000 people and killed at least 1,500. DRC can’t catch a break, but hopefully, the fact that Ebola has now crossed an international border will cause the broader world community to finally pay attention. And not necessarily the fear-mongering attention that we’re seeing in the United States as far right wing media spreads misinformation that refugees are spreading Ebola in places like Texas.