Government and UNICEF intensify screening for Ebola at border entry points in western Uganda

Joint efforts to prevent the spread of the disease

Catherine Ntabadde
ebola preparedness and response
UGDA/2019/Bongyereirwe
19 February 2019

At Mpondwe border point in Kasese District, Congolese and Ugandans entering Uganda line up to wash their hands, deep their shoes in basins of water containing chlorine, get counted and have their temperatures tested.

If the temperature is above 38 degrees celicious, the individual is retained and taken to the Ebola Treatment Unit at Bwera Hospital for further screening and assessment. Red Cross has a standby ambulance at Mpondwe to facilitate the referral.

The screening at Mpondwe and all entry points in Kasese district is done by Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) volunteers and district health workers with support from UNICEF.  Using funds availed by UKaid, UNICEF is supporting the government’s Ebola preparedness and prevention activities in the areas of risk communication and social mobilization, water, sanitation and hygiene.

To ensure that no one crosses into Uganda without being screened, Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) has been deployed to organize and guide the travellers to undergo the screening. The screening starts at 7am up to 7pm, the time the border is opened and closed respectively. “We are here to guide the travellers so that no one from Congo dodges the process. We also want to protect our health workers so that they are not intimidated,” says John Tandeka, UPDF Security Control Officer for Ebola screening point, Mpondwe.

As the travellers line up, a Red Cross volunteer conducts sensitization using a public speaker to explain each of the steps at the screening point and the importance of the exercise.

UNICEF Uganda

We are here to protect Ugandans from Ebola. At first the Congolese were not comfortable with this exercise because some believe that there is no Ebola in Congo. They call it witchcraft. Some of them are actually stubborn and would want to pass through without screening. The UPDF has been very helping us to organize all the travellers and also look out for those who want to cross without screening

says Francis Tumwine, URCS Focal Person Ebola preparedness, Kasese Branch

Tumwine says that on average Red Cross and the health workers screen about 6,000-13,000 people. On a market day, 20,000-30,000 people are screened. Majority of them are women and children.  The UPDF Security Control Officer Tandeka says that on market days, more UPDF soldiers are deployed to guide the travellers to pass through the process.

Chlorine used at the screening points is mixed on site. The hand washing facilities provided by UNICEF with funding from UKaid contain water mixed with chlorine of 0.05 per cent while the basins for shoe deeping contain chlorine of 0.5 per cent.

Tembo Gerald, a health worker of Bwera Hospital who is attached to Mpondwe screening point says since August 2018, 21 people have been referred to the Ebola Treatment Unit and all their results turned out negative.

Dr. Yusuf Baseka, District Health Officer Kasese says the risk communication and social mobilization, and water, sanitation and hygiene activities supported by UNICEF has equipped the communities with information on the dangers of Ebola, its transmission and how to prevent it.

“We are also emphasizing the importance of effective hand washing for infection control and prevention. Our communities at first were relaxed and saying that they interact with Congolese but have never contracted Ebola. It was until one of the community members lost a relative to Ebola in Congo. The relatives in Congo stopped those in Uganda from coming to burry. When the news of this death spread within our communities here, it kind of awakened them and they started believing that indeed there is Ebola in DRC,” explains Baseka.

Baseka further says that the sensitization of the communities and at the entry points has helped prevent transmission of Ebola in Uganda. “The moment the community is not well informed, the infection can easily get to them. It would take us time to contain it. People need to know that the risk exists, and it is very high,” he notes.