The Ebola virus that has stubbornly lingered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since August 2018 has finally jumped the border, sickening a 5-year-old boy in Uganda. The Uganda Virus Research Institute in Entebbe confirmed the infection, which the World Health Organization (WHO) announced this afternoon.
WHO has long feared that the lingering Ebola outbreak in the DRC, which has sickened more than 2000 people there and killed about two-thirds of the identified cases, would spread to neighboring countries. Health care workers have widely deployed an effective Ebola vaccine in the affected DRC areas and intensively worked to contain cases, but their response has repeatedly been hampered by violence from the many insurgency groups, including attacks on health care workers and facilities.
The boy and his family came to Uganda from the DRC and went to Uganda’s Kagando Hospital for care. He was then transferred to an Ebola treatment unit—where the health care workers already have been vaccinated—in nearby Bwera.
The case will likely trigger anew a discussion of whether WHO should declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) about the outbreak, the second largest one ever to occur since the disease first was recognized in 1976. An expert committee twice had decided not to declare a PHEIC, largely because the outbreak had not spread to another country. A PHEIC might allow WHO and its partners to mount a stronger attack against the disease with increased resources and larger international teams of responders helping stop the spread and treat the infected.