Yes, let's step up vigilance against Ebola outbreak

Kericho medics in protective gear over Ebola scare. Four patients are under isolation at the Kericho county hospital.

Kenyan health authorities are on high alert following the outbreak of the deadly Ebola disease in neighbouring Uganda. While there is no cause for alarm as yet, the intensified screening in border counties is laudable as every effort will be needed to prevent it from entering Kenya.

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya has indeed urged residents to be on the lookout and assured them that his county administration is alert.

While the country has never witnessed an outbreak of the disease, it is endemic in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which shares a porous border with Uganda, thus bringing the threat closer home. Nairobi is also a major international transit point, which means the proactive measures being taken to curb any spread into the country need to be widened beyond the border counties.

However, experiences from the 2014 outbreak in West Africa where Kenyan health workers were actively involved in combating it and investments made to make the country’s health systems more resilient and effective surveillance mechanisms to cope with epidemics would help minimise the risk posed by the latest outbreak. Already, some 11 people had by yesterday died from suspected and confirmed Ebola in Uganda.

Indeed, the resilience of Kenya’s health systems and trained manpower is credited with helping prevent more deaths as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The surveillance mechanisms put in place since March 2020 are still in place and have come in handy following the latest scare.

This was seen in the speed with which the Ministry of Health in conjunction with national and county authorities moved to control movements at the border points immediately Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe issued the order to enhance health checks on truck drivers, travellers and food handlers. 

However, while healthcare providers are key in the event of an outbreak, their efforts will not succeed unless they get support from the general public, political leaders as well as community, religious and cultural leaders. The general public has an especially key role as their vigilance will be needed to avert a spread in the event the disease finds its way into the country. They should look out for Ebola-like illnesses and report any concerns to the nearest health facility without delay for immediate investigation. 

Global players such as the World Health Organisation and other reputable health experts should also join in the global fight against the Ebola disease. This is another moment for the international community to put their hands on deck against the outbreak.

Enough financial and human resources should be urgently extended to Uganda and any country battling the contagious disease. But all said and done, remaining calm is critical in situations such as this one. 

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