Uganda Declares End of Deadly Ebola Outbreak

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 equipment.

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."

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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.

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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.

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