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Ebola outbreak in Uganda: Is everything under control?

Martina Schwikowski
October 27, 2022

The Ebola outbreak has reached Uganda's capital, Kampala. But aid organizations lack the financial means to fight the fast-transmitting disease.

Health workers outside a hospital building
Health care workers take precautions at a hospital in Uganda's Mubende district, where the current outbreak of Ebola was first detectedImage: Nicholas Kajoba/AA/picture alliance

Concerns are growing that an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda could get out of control. Ebola is a highly infectious and often deadly disease.

Uganda's Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said on Monday (October 24) that another nine people had tested positive for Ebola and that the number of people with Ebola in Uganda's capital, Kampala, had risen to 14 within 48 hours.

Two days later on October 26, official figures from the country's Health Ministry indicated that 109 people had been infected and 30 people had died since the outbreak began just over a month ago.

Outbreak in Kampala under control?

Despite the outbreak, Kampala resident Diana Nansukomenbosa says she feels safe in the city.

"I think the government is doing its best," Nansukomenbosa told AFP news agency reporters. "At the moment, I'm not very afraid of the outbreak. I think it is very well contained."

The current Ebola outbreak originated in central Uganda. There, in Mubende, a young man died on September 20 as a result of an infection — it was, apparently, a rare Sudan variant of the virus.

In mid-October, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ordered Mubende and the neighboring district of Kassanda to be cordoned off.

Museveni, who had initially ruled out a lockdown, said "additional measures" were needed to contain the spread of the virus.

The restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of the Mubende and Kassanda districts took effect on October 16 and were initially to last for 21 days.

No similar measures have yet been imposed on the capital.

Health Minister Aceng said "the situation in Kampala is still under control and there is no reason to restrict people's movement."

Uganda's Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng
Uganda's Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng: 'Situation in Kampala under control'Image: Hajarah Nalwadda/Xinhua/picture alliance

What are the symptoms of Ebola virus?

The head of public health in Uganda, Daniel J. Kyabayinze, says authorities are aware of the most recent cases because those individuals were on a list of people who had had contact with Ebola sufferers.

"They are either isolated or tracked so that the disease doesn't spread beyond those in contact, which we know happened in Kampala," Kyabayinze told AFP, adding that "when people have symptoms, they become contagious." 

But Kyabayinze said that only people who have Ebola symptoms are infectious.

Ebola symptoms include flu-like symptoms, such as fever in the early stages, then pain in the upper abdomen, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, among others, after three to 10 days.

The Health Ministry said health care professionals on the ground were able to provide early warning to patients suspected of having Ebola.

To respond more quickly, authorities in Kampala have set up a toll-free number and two Whatsapp numbers to report suspected cases and obtain information about Ebola.

Additional ambulances have also been purchased to transport patients more quickly from affected regions to hospitals in Kampala, reports The Daily Monitor in Uganda.

Map of Uganda, showing the districts Kampala, Mubende and Kassanda
The districts of Mubende and Kassanda have been cordoned off to control further spread of the Ebola virus


How did Uganda's Ebola outbreak start?

Countries bordering Uganda are watching the situation carefully.

Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have gradually increased surveillance along their borders with Uganda in an attempt to keep the virus out.

Uganda's health authorities are relatively well prepared for Ebola outbreaks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The country has a laboratory where the virus can be detected, a surveillance program and trained professionals.

After the first cases in Uganda, the government in Kampala immediately put into effect its emergency plans. Supported by specialists from the WHO, trained teams of doctors and nurses have gone to affected regions to isolate infected people as quickly as possible, educate communities about simple protective measures and to treat the sick.

Physician Innocent Nkonwa suspects humans' proximity to  batsmay be behind the Ebola outbreak

"One of the biggest challenges in our environment is that we live with bats every day," said Nkonwa, who treated Ebola patients in the Luweero district further east a decade ago.

The animals like to nest in houses, said Nkonwa, and also that there were indications that the virus had been transmitted from bats to humans.

A health care worker in Uganda prepares in protective clothing
Community health professionals are the 'eyes on the ground'Image: Hajarah Nalwadda/Xinhua/picture alliance

Less money for health aid

However, financial shortages are said to be slowing the fight against the Ebola outbreak and its effects in Uganda.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it could not sufficiently help the East African country contain the spread of Ebola. The UNHCR is unable to provide enough soap and hygiene items for relief projects, the organization said.

A WHO spokesperson said there was no vaccine available against the rare, Sudan strain of Ebola, which appears to be at the center of the outbreak.

This is the first time in more than a decade that the Sudan strain has been detected in Uganda, according to the WHO.

But the organization says that early detection of cases and treatment of symptoms greatly increases the chances of survival. Ebola is transmitted through direct physical contact and often leads to high fever and internal bleeding.

The worst Ebola epidemic to date occurred in western Africa between 2014 and 2016. At that time, more than 11,300 people died due to the virus.

In the forests of eastern and Central Africa, however, there have been numerous smaller outbreaks since the virus first appeared in 1976. All of those outbreaks were quickly contained, reportedly.

This article was originally published in German.