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A five-year-old boy has died from Ebola in Uganda and two more cases of the dis- ease have been confirmed in the first known incident of cross border transmission since the outbreak began in eastern Congo last year.
Health experts on Wednesday in both Uganda and Congo were racing to discover how the boy’s
relatives crossed the border on June 9 and with whom they might have come into contact along the way. Uganda has been routinely screening people coming from Congo for signs of fever, leading to speculation that the boy’s family might have crossed into Uganda at an informal border post.
The outbreak in eastern Congo, one of the most turbulent regions in the world, is already the second worst in history. Efforts to contain it have been hampered by chronic violence and suspicion of outsiders. Half or more of all Ebola deaths have occurred in people unknown to health authorities, implying that efforts to track the spread of the virus and isolate those contaminated are failing.
Uganda’s health ministry said the boy’s mother, who is Congolese but married to a Ugandan and living in the Kasese district of Uganda, had travelled back to Congo to nurse her sick father, who subsequently died of Ebola.
On returning to Uganda, the boy had started coughing up blood and vomiting and was taken to Kagando hospital where health workers immediately suspected Ebola. A sample of his blood tested positive for Ebola and on Wednesday two of the boy’s relatives were also confirmed to have contracted the disease.
The World Health Organisation said an expert committee had been alerted about the possibility of a meeting at which it would have the option to declare the Ebola outbreak a global health
emergency. Mark Eccleston-Turner, a global health lawyer at Keele University, said it was essential that the WHO declared an emergency.
“A declaration acts as a clarion call to the international community that this is an outbreak that requires further attention — political attention, including resources and finances,” he said.
While Mr Eccleston-Turner called the spread to Uganda “in- credibly disappointing”, he added:“The expertise that Uganda has and the fact that this has been discovered quite quickly gives hope that this can be snuffed out.”
Experts had previously warned that, if the deadly virus crossed into a neighbouring country, it
would represent a dramatic es- calation of a crisis that is already spinning out of control. Earlier this month, the WHO re- ported that 2,000 people had been infected, with two-thirds of them dying. The real number of deaths may be higher since many of those infected choose not to go to health centres to be quarantined, health experts said.