Kenya:Special teams in place to counter Ebola outbreak

By Standard Team

The Government is on high alert following an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda that has, so far, claimed 14 people.

Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Sharriff said they have readied specialised teams to respond to a possible Ebola outbreak just in case the virus crosses over from Uganda, where more cases of the virulent disease were reported in the capital Kampala.

Sharriff disclosed rapid response measures are in place to deal with the haemorrhagic fever, to allay rising fears that the dreaded disease may   spread into the country.

“We are confident Ebola will be contained in Uganda but in case of an outbreak in Kenya, we are prepared to handle it,” he said yesterday in a phone interview with The Standard.

Speaking to the Press at Busia District headquarters, Busia acting DC John Maingi, who chairs a team comprising Immigration officials, District Medical officers, the Provincial Administration, Red Cross and Public Health officials said the group is tasked with co-ordinating surveillance, screening of visitors and information dissemination to ensure the disease does not spread.

Maingi said Busia County is considered vulnerable because of its proximity to Uganda and the frequent interactions between members of the two countries.

District Public Health Officer Ambrose Fwamba said screening of visitors began on Sunday evening, adding that an isolation point had been erected at the frontier and in Busia Hospital where those who have contracted the disease will be admitted.

He said government officials working at the border point have already been provided with personal protective equipment to be used while screening visitors.

Mr Fwamba said the team was also moving around local schools to provide information about the disease with emphasis on the way the disease is transmitted and the symptoms.

Immediate response

“We are using the Provincial Administration and education officials to pass information regarding transmission and how to identify those who have contracted the disease,” said Fwamba.

Present during the briefing were Busia OCPD Kenneth Kimani and District Medical Officer Sumbeiywo Kiplagat.

Dr Kiplagat said all the officers working at health centres have been informed on the immediate response to be undertaken whenever they come across a person suffering from the disease.

“Once a case is reported, we recommend the patient be immediately isolated,” said Kiplagat.

Veronica Kiluva of the Centre for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology cautioned health officers at the border to be on high alert.

“What we need to do is ensure that we vet all those crossing our borders to avoid the spread of the deadly disease,” noted Dr Kiluva.

“Health officers should use all possible platforms to intensify sensitisation of the public on how to identify early symptoms of the disease,” she added.

In 2007, Kenya set up screening centres on its borders with Uganda following an outbreak of the Ebola virus, which killed about 20 people.

Previously, Dr Sharriff had assured Kenyans that possibility of importing the disease from Uganda through human travel was slim since the bulk of reported cases were still in western and Central Uganda.

“Kenyans should not panic. Things are all clear. We cannot close the border with Uganda. Things will go on normally,” he said.

So far, 14 people have died, including one in Kampala, since the disease outbreak was reported in western Uganda three weeks ago.

Ebola is one of the most virulent diseases in the world. It is spread by close personal contact and kills up to 90 per cent of those infected.

Uganda has seen three major outbreaks over the past 12 years. The deadliest was in 2000 when 425 people were infected. More than half of them died.  There is no vaccine for the virus. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, headache, vomiting and kidney problems.

––– Reports by Ally Jamah, Renson Buluma and Francis Ontomwa?