Uganda declares end of Ebola epidemic

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The Ugandan government declared the end of the Ebola epidemic less than four months after the cases were first reported.

Since September 20, 56 people have died from the virus, which is transmitted through bodily fluids, and there have been 142 confirmed infections.

The country has reported no new infections for more than 42 days – twice the maximum incubation period of the virus, a criterion by the World Health Organization for a country to be declared Ebola-free.

“Uganda quickly brought an end to the Ebola epidemic by increasing surveillance, contact tracing and key control measures such as infection, prevention and control,” Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero said on Wednesday. “The magic bullet has been our communities that understand the importance of doing what is necessary to end the epidemic and take action.”

The latest outbreak of the Sudanese strain of the virus was one of the worst events Uganda has experienced in two decades. There is currently no vaccine against the strain.

The epidemic started in the Mubende district in central Uganda and spread to neighboring Kassanda. Cases have also been reported in the capital Kampala. The two regions were placed under months of isolation.

“Today is a very big day for the country,” said health ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyoona. “I would say we are addressing this situation as soon as possible.”

He acknowledged that the quarantines were affecting people’s livelihoods, but added: “These restrictive measures were able to prevent the spread of the epidemic to other parts of the country.”

The Uganda Red Cross said it would not immediately withdraw from the affected areas.

Related: Healthcare workers are among those killed in Uganda’s Ebola outbreak

Vaccine trials against the Sudanese strain continue. Government officials have signaled their intention to continue developing vaccines from the Sabin Vaccine Institute in the US, the University of Oxford, the Jenner Institute in the UK, the Serum Institute of India and the International Aids Vaccine Initiative.

“Our focus will be on research, education, capacity building and enabling us to build resilient health systems,” Ainebyoona said. “We will be better prepared to respond to other health emergencies that may arise.”

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated Uganda on its “robust and comprehensive response”. “Lessons learned and systems deployed for this pandemic will protect Ugandans and others for years to come.”

This is the first outbreak of the Sudanese Ebola strain in Uganda since 2012.

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