Uganda at 'big risk' for Ebola spreading from neighbouring Congo, officials say

Uganda is at "big risk" of the spread of a deadly Ebola virus outbreak from neighbouring Congo, a senior health official said Thursday, even as he said the situation is "being handled well" there.

Uganda's director of health services, Henry Mwebesa, spoke to The Associated Press a day after the World Health Organization said Congo's outbreak does not yet warrant being declared a global emergency but called for an "intensified" response.

Uganda is the most threatened as the risk of Ebola's regional spread is "very high," with confirmed cases discovered in recent weeks near the heavily travelled border. WHO has not recommended any travel restrictions.

Twice-weekly market days during which 10,000 Congolese cross into Uganda have put the country at "big risk," Mwebesa said. Unofficial border crossing points also are a cause for concern.

This file photo shows a passenger arriving at an airport in Uganda on a domestic flight having her temperature checked for a fever, which could indicate symptoms of Ebola, back in 2014. Ugandan health officials say they are screening travellers arriving from Congo for high body temperature amid the current Ebola outbreak. (Stephen Wandera/Associated Press)

The current outbreak of the highly infectious Ebola virus in northeastern Congo has had 185 confirmed cases, including 107 deaths. Congo's health ministry has said millions of travellers have been checked for Ebola at various points of entry since the outbreak was declared on Aug. 1.

Mwebesa said 222 suspected cases of Ebola have been identified and isolated in Uganda among people arriving from Congo but none have tested positive. He said travellers arriving from Congo are screened for a high body temperature.

Uganda has had multiple Ebola outbreaks since 2000.

The chair of the WHO's emergency committee on Wednesday said that if the virus infects another country, that could trigger another meeting to determine whether this outbreak should be declared a global emergency.

Congo's health minister, Oly Ilunga, told the BBC ahead of the meeting that his country didn't want the declaration, saying that "I think the situation is quite under control."

His ministry, WHO and aid groups have expressed alarm as the rate of new cases has more than doubled this month amid the threat of attack by multiple rebel groups and sometimes hostile community resistance to health workers in a part of Congo facing its first Ebola outbreak.

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