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Uganda declares Ebola outbreak over; vaccine trials stand ready

Men look at an Ebola virus disease awareness campaign poster following an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda, in Kampala, Uganda, in late September. Some four months later, and the country has declared the outbreak over. Photo by EPA-EFE

Men look at an Ebola virus disease awareness campaign poster following an outbreak of Ebola in Uganda, in Kampala, Uganda, in late September. Some four months later, and the country has declared the outbreak over. Photo by EPA-EFE

Jan. 12 (UPI) — Less than four months after the first Ebola case was confirmed in Uganda, the East African nation has declared the outbreak over and officials stand ready to begin vaccine trials if future cases are detected.

It was Uganda’s first outbreak of the Sudan ebolavirus in a decade and the fifth all-time, and consisted of 164 confirmed and probable cases, including 55 deaths.

The first case was confirmed Sept. 20 in central Mubende district, and the last patient was released from the hospital on Nov. 30, which started the 42-day countdown that ended Wednesday — the day officials officially declared the end of the epidemic.

The Biden administration on Thursday congratulated the government of Uganda and the World Health Organization on ending the outbreak.

“We celebrate with the survivors just as we express our condolences for those lives lost,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday in a press conference.

“Every single outbreak reminds us that a health threat anywhere is a potential health threat to everyone in the world. The containment of this Ebola outbreak is just the most recent example of coordination and teamwork to keep all of us safe by preventing infectious disease threats from crossing borders.”

At the start of the outbreak, officials had feared it may take hold of the country as there are no approved vaccines or therapeutics to fight this specific strain of Ebola.

On Wednesday the U.N. health body congratulated its defeat of the virus based on its “strong political commitment,” accelerated public health actions and its history of responding to epidemics that allowed it to rapidly strengthen critical areas.

“Two months ago, it look as if Ebola would cast a dark shadow over the country well into 2023, as the outbreak reached major cities such as Kampala and Jinja, but this win starts off the year on a note of great hope for Africa” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement.

Following the start of the outbreak, WHO officials and their partners rushed to find potential therapeutics, and identified three candidate vaccines, thousands of vials of which were shipped to the country starting early last month.

Though none of the vaccines were used in the outbreak, WHO on Thursday said a vaccination protocol was developed and locally approved and that Makerere University stands ready to conduct a trial if new cases are confirmed and doses of the candidate vaccines remain available.

With the outbreak over, health authorities in the country will continue to maintain surveillance and a program has been established to help survivors, WHO said, adding that neighboring countries remain on alert and have been encouraged to continue strengthening their countermeasures.

“Uganda has shown that Ebola can be defeated when the whole system works together, from having an alert system in place, to finding and caring for people affected and their contacts, to gaining the full participation of affected communities in response,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“Lessons learned and the systems put in place for this outbreak will protect Ugandans and others in the years ahead.”

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