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Ebola fears Uganda will close schools early for Christmas

A student taking notes in class, Kisoro, Uganda

It may seem like Christmas is coming early for Ugandan students as millions of them return home early for the school holidays on Friday. However, the decision to close schools across the country two weeks before the end of the term was taken to slow the spread of Ebola as the country continues to battle one of its worst outbreaks.

He also disagrees with the official government stance that everything is under control.

In the last two months, 55 people have died with the virus, and there were 22 probable deaths from Ebola before the outbreak was officially declared on September 20.

Some experts have expressed reservations about closing schools, arguing that keeping students contained for another two weeks would be a better way to stop the spread of the deadly disease, given that the incubation period can last anywhere from two days to three weeks. .

Ebola is a viral infection that is transmitted through a patient’s bodily fluids.

Many of the children who attend boarding schools will travel long distances across the country.

“They’re going to be packed into buses, minibuses and private cars, providing the maximum opportunity for people to mix in very close contact,” said public health expert Dr. Olive Kobusingye, a principal investigator at Makerere University School. and the University of South Africa. bbc

“It’s the last thing Uganda needs right now.”

But it is not a decision taken lightly, given that at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Uganda imposed the world’s longest school closure, lasting 22 months.

Parental visits are prohibited

Education Minister Janet Museveni, who is also the wife of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, made the announcement earlier this month following 23 cases in five schools in Kampala, killing eight students.

The infections in the capital were linked to a man who had traveled from the western district of Mubende, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Ebola prevention signage seen in Mubende, Uganda - October 14, 2022

Nine districts, including the capital, have been affected by the outbreak

The fear is that schools could now act as a reservoir, something authorities want to avoid in urban areas.

Schools had already implemented strict Ebola measures, many already used for Covid, including temperature checks, regular handwashing and surface disinfection.

Visits by parents and guardians were then banned as the last term of the year drew to a close and seniors prepared for exams.

For the Minister of Health, Jane Ruth Aceng, it has been of the utmost importance to organize the end-of-year trips for students to and from Mubende and Kassanda, another of the most affected districts.

Both areas are still closed, which means that residents are not allowed to go out and entry is restricted unless they go through the main road.

The children will be dropped off at designated points from where they will then board buses provided by the government and international organizations supporting the Ebola response.

These buses will take them to assigned stops in their home areas where parents can pick them up.

“This is to ensure that parents don’t go to the two districts and students leaving boarding schools don’t go to the communities” at the epicenter of the outbreak, Dr. Aceng told the BBC.

Pupils returning to Mubende and Kassanda must first go to Kampala, where they will be loaded onto buses and taken to a main meeting point within their home district.

They will be fully informed in advance about how to protect themselves.

quarantine concerns

Uganda has dealt with multiple Ebola outbreaks in the past 22 years, but the current one is by far the most widespread, having been reported in nine districts, mainly in the central regions.

Like four previous epidemics, this one is of the Sudan strain, for which there is no approved vaccine or treatment, unlike the more common Zaire strain responsible for the largest Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

“If we were hiding any data, the evidence would come out: we would see people dying en masse”, Source: Henry Bosa, Source Description: Uganda Ebola Incident Commander, Image: Henry Bosa

The government has said that trials of three vaccines will begin in the coming weeks, although details about how and in whom they will be carried out are being scanned.

There has been good news from Kagadi and Bunyangabu districts, where they have gone 42 days without a new infection, twice the incubation period.

Kyegegwa district has also gone a couple of weeks without a new case, giving response teams hope that control measures are working.

But the challenge remains people who have been identified as contacts of confirmed cases who then travel without telling health workers.

The outbreaks in Jinja and Masaka were caused by two infected people who traveled separately out of Kampala.

Critics feel this is an indication that the Ministry of Health does not have the capacity to deal with containment, and they worry about the thoroughness of contact tracing.

“I think the data that has been published is confirmed data, but I don’t think it is exhaustive,” ActionAid’s Xavier Ejoyi told the BBC.

In response, the health minister acknowledged that she could not say that her quarantine or case identification was “100% secure” but expressed confidence that surveillance teams could quickly identify any cases that were missed.

Lt Col Dr Henry Bosa, the country’s Ebola incident commander, agreed, telling the BBC: “If we were hiding any data, the evidence would come out, we would be seeing people dying en masse.”

However, he admitted that listing contacts in urban settings was complex and that speed was important.

Students must return to classes for the new school year in January.

The Ministry of Health estimates that the outbreak could end in February or March, although Dr. Aceng strongly warned that this would only be the case if people obeyed prevention measures.

“The end of this epidemic depends a lot on the communities,” he said.

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