Ebola Appears in Western Uganda: Disastrous Repercussions for East Africa

6 Aug

Does this picture look like we shouldn’t worry WHO?

Yes the Ebola virus has appeared again in Uganda and has been credited with killing 16 Ugandans out of an infected group of 36 since the end of July 2012. There is no vaccine or cure for the Ebola Hemorrhagic Virus  and the recommended course of medical treatment is a combination of intravenous or oral re-hydration solutions, blood infusions, and when all else fails, life-support machines. It is a documented fact that humans have become infected with the Ebola virus after handling dead primates such as gorillas, chimpanzees and duikers.

Ebola is not new to Uganda, or The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or South Sudan. According to The World Health Organization (WHO, 2012) there have been 1,850 reported cases of Ebola since it was first detected in the in Sudan, near the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), between June and November of 1976. A second outbreak occurred there 3 years later in 1979. Meanwhile in 1976, an outbreak due to the Zaire subtype occurred in the DRC, near the borders with Sudan and the Central African Republic and only one person was reported to have been infected with thissame subtype in June of 1977. The virus was named for the Ebola River, which flowed past Yambuku where the first outbreak occurred in 1976. And then there was a fifteen year grace period where no cases of Ebola were reported in Sub-Saharan Africa at all. But by1994 the Ivory Coast subtype had been identified and Ebola –Zaire was back again in the DRC in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

Ebola has caused more than 1,200 deaths worldwide and that is a 65% death rate. In the year 2000 a significant Ebola epidemic that caused 224 deaths was recorded from three districts in Uganda with largest infected population coming from Gulu District, located in northern Uganda. This outbreak began in October, 2000 and did not end until January, 2011- not all that long ago.

This newest outbreak was first reported as a “mysterious disease” that had killed 17 people in two months. The first outbreak was posted on July 27th, 2012 and was reported inaccurately by the international press. The virus broke out in the town of Kigadi first which is located within the district, not the town of Kibaale; although Kibaale like many Ugandan districts is also a town in that district. This disease which was thought to be a form of the flu infected several members of the same family first. They were reported to be suffering from fever, diarrhea, and vomiting which can be also be symptoms of the flu or a twenty-four hour virus. But slowly these patients’ symptoms worsened unlike a typical case of the flu. The doctors began to suspect Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever and took the necessary precautions. The first person to die of Ebola was a 3-month-old girl and 15 mourners who attended her funeral eventually contracted the disease.

Ebola is an extremely contagious virus and can be spread through direct contact with any infected bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, stool, vomit, urine and sweat. It can also be spread by touching needles or medical tools previously used by the infected person, touching the body of a person who has died from Ebola, and even through touching the bedding and the clothes worn by an infected person.  The incubation period lasts between 2 to 21 days, and the range of the outbreak lasts around 42 days after the last person has contracted the virus.

Ebola begins like the flu with some – not all of these symptoms. The infected person may experience a sore throat and overall weakness soon followed by a headache, joint pain, muscle aches, like the beginnings of a winter cold or flu. Then the individual is usually hit with violent diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash on the body may develop or the individual may experience red, swollen eyes, or the hiccups. But at the same time the virus goes on to severely impair the individual’s immune system somewhat like AIDS and without supporting treatments and considering the age and overall health of the individual, he/she can waste away in no time at all. The one thing most East Africans remember from the first recorded outbreaks of Ebola is that people experienced internal and external bleeding. They eventually “bleed out of every physical orifice in their body.” Although this does not happen to all humans infected with the Ebola virus it is the one symptom that no one in East Africa can forget. People who meet one another on the roadways traveling across East Africa will ask whether or not anyone knows where the latest outbreak of Ebola is taking place. I can honestly say as one of those travelers that Ebola terrifies me much more than the presence of Al Shabaab, Malaria, River Blindness, or AIDS. Although not officially determined yet by specific scientific research the medical community has enough information to believe that the first patient to become infected with Ebola did so through contact with an infected animal such as a bat or a primate. The reason for Ebola outbreaks have been well established and it was because the first infected people had handled even eaten animals such as bats, dead gorillas, chimpanzees or duikers.

There are five types of Ebola virus-. four of them have been known to infect human beings and other primates”: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, Ebola-Ivory Coast and Ebola-Bundibugyo. The strain involved in the current outbreak in Uganda right now is the Ebola-Sudan type, which has been the cause of five separate outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa since 1976 and has a 50 % death rate in infected individuals (WHO, 2011).

The fifth Ebola strain has only infected the nonhuman primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees so far. And that leads us to the next deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus. A new scientific study has confirmed that certain strains of the Ebola virus have caused the death of gorillas and chimpanzees all over Sub-Saharan Africa. In the Democratic Republic of Congo( DRC), scientists had been tracking gorillas families for several years now. And then about four years ago they started to find gorilla carcasses. Over the next four months they determined that 130 of the 143 gorillas that lived within the Lossi Sanctuary had died from the same subtypes of the Ebola virus as human beings.

Dr.Tom Geisbert is currently involved in developing an Ebola vaccine at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute located on the grounds of Fort Detrick, Maryland. Currently he has designed an Ebola vaccine that has worked successfully on monkeys, but even he has admitted that it will be years before he will be able to mass produce an Ebola vaccine that will protect human beings.

President Museveni began with a National Address to the People of Uganda this July and was broadcasted by the local media. He has continued to use the media to urge his citizens to stay away from crowds, which is pretty hard to do in the local outdoor markets frequented daily by most Ugandans. And he has urged everyone to wear masks and to stay away from people who either have contracted the virus or who have died from the Ebola virus. Other medical warnings include abstaining from killing or butchering wild game because it has been proven that humans can contact Ebola through handling infected animals. “Avoid shaking of hands, do not take on burying somebody who has died from symptoms which look like Ebola, instead call the health workers to be the ones to do it and avoid promiscuity because these sicknesses can also go through sex,” he said in his address.

Another great tragedy is the effect that this outbreak has already had on the Ugandan Tourist industry. This year Kenya, the “King of the Safari”  had its best year ever. All of the safari camps and hotels were booked months in advance of the “ Great Migration”- in July when the wildebeests, giraffes, zebras, and their predators begin to cross the Mara River from the Serengeti of Tanzania to the Maasi Mara of Kenya. Even Mombasa, the “Riviera of East Africa” was full to bursting with tourists and  when the American Embassy told them to leave the city in late June because it suspected that there would be a terrorist attack, all of the American tourists in the resort hotels stayed put.

Because the Kenyan safaris were all booked up, the remaining tourists flocked to Uganda and their safari companies.  Guides like my Patrick were doing a booming business throughout the months of May, June, and the beginning of July. But six of the eleven National Parks in Uganda are located in south western Uganda, not far from Kibaale District and all are known for the exceptional range of primate species living within their forests. And one more, the Kibale National Park is actually located within Kibaale district. After the news broke about the Ebola virus tourists from around the world cancelled their safari reservations in Uganda which seriously hurt the national economy and scores of dedicated safari lodges, businesses, guides, and drivers suffered as a result.

There is an eminent danger beyond the current problems in Uganda, First the East African apes, chimps, and monkeys are dying from the same strains of Ebola as human beings. There may come a time in the foreseeable future when the National Forests could lose their primate populations and what will happen then?   Inside Odzala National Park, Ebola broke out at in December 2003. The epidemic lasted for almost a year, and killed about 95% of the some 377 identified gorillas that formerly frequented the area (Caillaud et al., 2006). Devos & al., reported that both gorillas and chimpanzees’ nests decreased by 80-85%. Dr. Lahm has reported a decrease of 90% of the gorilla population and 98% in the chimpanzee there compared to her previous observations in the same area before the 1994 and 1996 Ebola epidemics ( Lahm, 2000).

My friends living in Kampala are terrified that there will be an outbreak of Ebola in the capital city. The people in the countries of Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are plenty nervous too and rightly so. The World Health Organizations has stated that “the Ebola outbreaks normally happen within small, localized areas and that the risk of spreading from country to country is minimal.” They have recommended that no travel warnings or trade restrictions on Uganda are necessary.

And the World Health Organization is “lying through its teeth”. The Ebola virus is highly contagious and could already have been spread by people crossing the borders between countries – it can very easily be carried along by human beings. The incubation period lasts between 2 to 21 days -more than enough time for a person or a group to take a bus from Kigadi to Kampala or to the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) infecting hundreds of people along the way.

Wake up World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control! Tell the people the truth. There has been a steady increase in the deaths of human beings due to the Ebola virus and a lot more of these “small locations” have been showing up on the map throughout Sub-Saharan Africa lately. And there is a devastating Ebola epidemic going on among the non-human primate groups in East Africa which could “wipe them out” of all of the National Parks in East Africa and increase the number of infections in human beings. Scientists in the Minkebe Forest have already attributed the outbreaks of Ebola in humans to the drastic decline in the great ape populations (Huijbregts & al., 2003). And all of this has been directly linked to these “small outbreaks” of Ebola that you have failed to mention in the rest of the countries bordering Uganda for many years now, especially the DRC and South Sudan. According to your own records, this is the fourth outbreak of Ebola in Uganda since 2000 (WHO, 2012). And you wonder why we’ve stopped believing in you?

Kat Nickerson               Kingston, RI               USA

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