Uganda Declares End of Deadly Ebola Outbreak – At least 55
individuals died in an outbreak of a rare, vaccine-resistant Sudan strain.
KAMPALA, Uganda— Uganda’s Ebola outbreak has been declared over,
according to the country’s health ministry, capping a nearly four-month battle
to contain a rare strain of the highly contagious virus for which there are no
proven vaccines or antiviral treatments.
According to Uganda’s Health Ministry, 42 days have passed since
the last known patient diagnosed with the Sudan strain of Ebola was discharged
from a hospital, putting the country past the virus’s maximum incubation
period. Fifty-five people have died from the virus in Uganda’s second-deadliest
known Ebola outbreak since September, with at least 142 others infected.
According to the ministry, another 22 people died from the virus as early as
August but were never tested.
Uganda’s healthcare system struggled to contain Ebola infections in
the early months of the outbreak due to steep budget cuts caused in part by the
cost of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Trainee doctors and other
healthcare workers went on strike, citing late pay and a lack of protective
The World Health Organization praised Uganda for combating the
outbreak, despite the lack of vaccines or therapeutics.
“Health authorities worked tirelessly, ramping up outbreak
control measures that helped to bring the virus to a halt in less than four
months,” said Patrick Otim, WHO’s outbreak response coordinator. “Key
success factors in the response have been evidence-based decision-making,
partnerships, and collaboration between the government, its partners, health
workers, and the community.”
The virus was discovered in the central farming district of Mubende
in September and has since spread to at least nine different districts,
including Kampala, Uganda’s capital with a population of 3 million people.
Health officials were concerned that the virus would spread to neighboring
Rwanda, Burundi, and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose
economies are already among the poorest in the world as a result of
pandemic-related disruptions and the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In November, the United States restricted Ugandan arrivals to five
airports to allow for additional screening, while the WHO urged neighboring
countries to prepare for the possibility of infections. There were no cases of
the virus in those countries.
As the number of cases increased, Uganda’s Health Ministry
announced a $13 million shortfall that was undermining response efforts. The
two most affected districts were placed under strict lockdown by authorities.
The US government says it spent $34 million on the response, mostly
through international agencies and nongovernmental organizations. More
investments in the public and animal health sectors, as well as diagnostic
laboratories, are needed to help Uganda avoid and contain future outbreaks,
according to Natalie E. Brown, the United States ambassador to Uganda.
Antiviral treatments and vaccines used to inoculate patients’
contacts in order to contain the spread of the virus, which have transformed
the fight against Ebola in recent years, do not work against the Sudan strain
of the virus.
The most advanced vaccine candidates that could be effective
against the Sudan strain arrived in Uganda in December for testing, including
one developed by the Washington-based Sabin Vaccine Institute, another by the
University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, and a third by the International AIDS
Vaccine Initiative. The trial was intended to include contacts of recently
confirmed Ebola cases, but because there have been no new cases in the last six
weeks, it is difficult to assess the efficacy of vaccine candidates, according
to the WHO.
“WHO and partners will now consider other aspects to advance
the evaluation of the candidate vaccines, such as conducting research on the
doses now available in Uganda,” Dr. Otim said.