Uganda, at high risk for Ebola, starts vaccinating medics

WHO Director Will Visit Congolese Areas Affected by Ebola

The Uganda Ministry of Health (UMoH) announced it has started vaccinating frontline health workers against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). "Uganda has a very porous border with the DR Congo, so we have a lot of refugees and other people crossing through from where there is violence". The fear of transmission of the infection via the borders is heightened by the armed conflicts in the region, say officials.

If global Ebola containment efforts fail in the Congo, it would mark the first time the virus was not stopped since 1976, when Ebola was first identified.

This could have been avoided if the vaccine had been available then.

Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, the World Health Organization representative in Uganda said the vaccine - rVSV-ZEBOV - was close to 100 percent effective and carried few risks.

More news: Democrats seize US House in rebuke to Trump

"There are areas that are very hard to access and in dealing with Ebola you need to be able to isolate patients, as well as contact tracing, to be following all of the contacts of different people, and safe and dignified burials", added Tricia Norwood, an Doctors Without Borders official based in Bunia in eastern DRC, near the Ugandan border.

No cases have been reported in Uganda so far, but health care workers in high-risk districts bordering the Congo are getting vaccinated as a precaution, health officials said. "This context puts the healthcare and frontline workers in Uganda at risk of being in contact with an [Ebola] case".

Ebola was first reported in Congo in 1976 and is named for the river where it was recognized. In 2000 and 2001, 574 people were infected and 261 died in Uganda. An outbreak in the western part of the country was declared over in July, after infecting 53 people and killing 33.Just days later, the current outbreak was discovered across the vast Central African nation, in a region that has been at the heart of multiple conflicts.Maggie FoxMaggie Fox is senior writer for NBC News and TODAY, writing top news and analysis on health policy, science, medical treatments and disease. Since 2014, about 2,000 people have been killed in clashes between armed groups. There are some experimental antibody based therapies that are being tried in treating the disease.

Although the "investigational vaccine" has not yet been licensed it was used in previous Ebola outbreaks in Guinea, Sierra Leone and DR Congo at the recommendation of the WHO's group of experts.

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