Ugandan Health Minister Ruth Jane Aceng said on Monday that 14 cases of Ebola have been confirmed in the capital city of Kampala and its surrounding area during the previous 48 hours.
Nine of the new patients were people who were in close contact with one of the 44 fatalities in the current outbreak.
According to Aceng, seven of the nine infected people were members of a family from the heavily populated Kampala slum of Masanafu.
Agence France Presse (AFP) noted this district is close to “the Kasubi royal tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and not far from two of Uganda’s two main private universities,” but Aceng did not appear deeply concerned about further transmission.
“The situation in Kampala is still under control and no need to restrict people’s movements,” she said, even though Uganda’s authoritarian President Yoweri Museveni ordered 21-day lockdowns on two other districts last week.
“Fellow Ugandans, let’s be vigilant,” Aceng said in a Tweet on Sunday. “Report yourself if you have had contact, or know of a person who has had contact. Let’s cooperate to end Ebola.”
According to AFP, residents of Kampala are “anxious” despite Aceng’s reassurances. Some found it puzzling that steps short of a full lockdown have not been taken to reduce the risks of contagion, implicitly suggesting the Museveni government might be embarrassed by imposing restrictions on the capital city.
“The government has not done much to sensitize Kampala residents on Ebola. Parties and music concerts are still held yet the disease is in our midst,” one Kampala resident complained.
“We are at (the) mercy of God if Ebola cases rise in Kampala, because most people don’t take health precautions, and health services are still poor,” another told AFP.
Dr. Samuel Oledo, president of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA), on Tuesday recommended lockdown restrictions for the infected districts of Kampala.
Oledo denounced political interference with Ebola response and worried the Museveni government could be sitting on a “time bomb.” On the other hand, he praised the government for making expensive Ebola treatments swiftly available to medical workers who have contracted the disease.
“Kampala should have restriction of movement, let us hold Kampala when it is still early. The earlier we lockdown Kampala the better. Ugandans are still taking it as something so minor. It is catastrophic that right now, people are not even reporting cases,” he said.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) last week expressed concerns that at least eight of Uganda’s documented Ebola infections have no apparent link to previous cases.
“We remain concerned that there may be more chains of transmission and more contacts than we know about in the affected communities,” said W.H.O. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Uganda is battling the Sudan strain of Ebola, a less common strain that is resistant to existing vaccines. On Sunday, pharmaceutical giant Merck said it would donate 100,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine discovered in its freezers to help with the Uganda outbreak.
According to Science magazine, Merck developed its Sudan vaccine in 2015 and 2016 after creating a successful vaccine for the more common Zaire strain, which was rampaging through West Africa at the time.
Merck froze the unneeded Sudan vaccine in bulk before it was tested on humans. The company was somewhat evasive about whether the stockpile was usable or not at first, but following repeated inquiries from Science, it eventually confirmed the frozen vaccine was viable and announced it would pay for a “fill and finish” process that could make the vaccine available for human trials within a month.