On December 8, 2022, a shipment of trial Ebola vaccines reached Uganda, the first of its kind, that will undergo further evaluation in a clinical trial to determine efficacy against the Sudan ebolavirus. The arrival of these 1,200 doses of trial vaccines comes only 79 days after Uganda announced an Ebola outbreak on September 20, 2022. The speed of this response is unprecedented.
Preceding the arrival of the trial Ebola vaccines in Uganda, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced an Ebola outbreak in Uganda on September 20, 2022, after confirming a lethal case of Ebola in Mubende District due to the Sudan ebolavirus.
As the outbreak continued, authorities placed lockdowns in certain districts in Uganda. Additionally, authorities restricted travel and ended school terms earlier. These measures seem to have been largely effective: since November 27, Uganda reported no new cases.
Health in Uganda
As a low-income country, the threat that Ebola outbreaks pose is severe. In 2019, the GDP of Uganda stood at $35.35 billion, with 3.83% of the GDP going toward health expenditure.
According to WHO data from 2018, Uganda faces challenges to its health situation as a result of high rates of communicable diseases. Additionally, “malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB and respiratory, diarrhoeal, epidemic-prone and vaccine-preventable diseases are the leading causes of illness and death,” the WHO reported. These diseases are responsible for more than half of the nation’s morbidity and mortality statistics.
The health care conditions and the availability of medical care vary widely depending on the area. More specifically, rural and remote areas face a shortage of supplies and a lack of human resources, resulting in less patient care, poor health information, limited access to health services and the inappropriate usage of medications.
There are no vaccines available to protect against the strain of Ebola responsible for the outbreak in Uganda, the Sudan ebolavirus species, which is why the trial is necessary. WHO has noted that the arrival of trial Ebola vaccines in Uganda in less than 100 days since the initial outbreak is a “historical milestone in the global capacity to respond to outbreaks.”
The organization went on to emphasize how this vaccine’s fast availability is the result of many international organizations and researchers collaborating and working together. It also comes as a direct result of investments from countries such as the United States to allow WHO to coordinate and focus work on priority health concerns, like Ebola.
Potential Global Impact
The arrival of the trial Ebola vaccines in Uganda offers a promising global impact. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, noted in a statement to WHO, “[The trial] showcases the power of scientific research on our continent and how working in collaboration with international partners we can develop critical tools that will limit the lethal effects of Ebola.” The speed and collaboration that brought about the trial of Ebola vaccines may help combat other diseases and global health concerns in the future.
Impact for Uganda
Once trials reach completion and a vaccine proves effective against the Sudan ebolavirus, this will have a direct impact on the country’s population. Uganda has seen Ebola outbreaks due to the Sudan ebolavirus in nine different districts of Uganda, with 142 confirmed cases by December 5, 2022. From these confirmed cases, Ugandan authorities noted 55 deaths.
Outbreak control for this virus requires several different interventions, including case identification, contact tracing, sufficient laboratory capacity, safe burials, proper hygiene and sufficient treatment early on. As Uganda is a low-income country, recently impacted by food insecurity, severe weather and the COVID-19 pandemic, disease outbreaks can be devastating. Thus, a vaccine to prevent further outbreaks will significantly assist Uganda.
Ultimately, the arrival of trial Ebola vaccines to combat the Sudan ebolavirus in Uganda shows that through collaboration it is possible to create countermeasures against serious viruses in a minimal amount of time. For the country of Uganda, it is a message of hope and assurance that the international community is capable and prepared to work together and build solutions for further Ebola outbreaks that may arise.
– Johanna Bunn
Photo: Wikipedia Commons