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Ebola Outbreak Spreads: Uganda Reports Its 1st Cases


Uganda reported its first case of Ebola this week. A 5-year-old boy and his grandmother crossed into Uganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo looking for treatment. The DRC is in the middle of a months-long Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,400 people. Now Uganda's health ministry says both the young boy and his grandmother have died. Kelly Ryan is with the International Rescue Committee, and she joins me via Skype from the Kyaka refugee settlement in southwest Uganda. Hi, Kellie.

KELLIE RYAN: Hi, how are you? Thank you for having me.

KING: Thanks for being on. Kellie, tell me about where you are and whether people there are aware that Ebola has spread to Uganda and how worried they are.

RYAN: So I'm in Kyaka refugee settlement, which is 80% Congolese refugees and which is still receiving about 2,000 Congolese refugees every two weeks.

KING: Wow.

RYAN: And so what the IRC, or the International Rescue Committee, is doing, we're screening refugees when they first arrive to the settlement, and then we're also doing triage facilities at the health clinic. So the people here are aware that there has been a confirmed case, and they're very prepared.

KING: And Kellie, I hear a child behind you. May I ask, are you in a clinic?

RYAN: Yeah. So I'm inside the health clinic at the refugee settlement.

KING: OK. So you have a clinic set up to deal with Ebola cases. You also have, as you say, thousands of Congolese crossing the border every couple of weeks into the settlement where you are. What is the level of worry that you might get more cases?

RYAN: People are very worried. I think until the outbreak stops in DRC, then the chances that new cases arrive in Uganda is very high.


RYAN: We need to make sure that we're scaling up our response on both sides of the border and really addressing the outbreak on the DRC side.

KING: Meanwhile, in Uganda, the health ministry is telling residents to suspend market days, to avoid church services and other public gatherings. It's even encouraging people to stop shaking hands, to stop hugging. Is that realistic?

RYAN: I think, in the border areas, that is proper protocol. The disease spreads through touching, through sweat and things like that. So when you're in an area of an outbreak, you kind of bump elbows to say hi to people. People are not going to stop shopping and stop going to markets. But there are extra precautions that people need to take when they're in these areas.

KING: And it sounds like they know to take them. That's interesting. Kellie, the World Health Organization has twice ruled that this outbreak is not yet a global emergency. Now that Ebola has hopped a border, will that change?

RYAN: Well, I think they're convening a panel tomorrow to discuss it once more. Declaring a public health emergency of international concern has big implications. So the closing of borders - you know, these are border towns. People - their livelihoods are dependent on being able to cross borders and do business.

KING: Yeah.

RYAN: Refugees who are fleeing armed conflict in DRC not being able to come into Uganda. So it - there are some serious implications on making that declaration, and I'm sure those will be considered.

KING: How hopeful are you that this outbreak can be contained?

RYAN: Specifically in Uganda, they are very well-prepared. But the way the response is going in the DRC is very concerning. There's a lot of scale-up and better coordination and closely working with the community. There's a lot of armed groups operating in the area. There's a tax on Ebola workers. NGOs are forced to suspend their programming on a regular basis.

And so it's really important that we gain the trust of the community in the DRC, that people make sure they're starting to bring suspected cases into the clinics because we're still seeing a lot of cases in the communities, which shows that people are not trusting the response, and they're not bringing their loved ones into the clinics for treatment. So in order to stop it spreading, we have to stop it in the source, which is in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

KING: Kellie Ryan with the International Rescue Committee in Uganda. We reached her by Skype. Kellie, thanks so much.

RYAN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.