Lack of funds, delay in vaccine trials put more Ugandans at risk of Ebola infection

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By JONATHAN KAMOGA

Insufficient resources to deal with the Ebola outbreak and conduct vaccine trials are putting more lives at risk in Uganda, where the virus continues to spread more than a month after the outbreak.

Health authorities had said they would introduce trial vaccines to frontline medical staff to curb the spread of the virus, but this has not been implemented three and a half weeks later.

According to the spokesperson of the Ministry of Health, Emmanuel Ainebyona, the government does not yet have a tentative date on when it will receive the vaccines that are being paid for by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and immunization (Gavi).

“Once they are here, we will start the clinical trial,” Ainebyona said.

In a joint statement on Thursday, Uganda’s Ministry of Health, Cepi, Gavi and WHO said they had outlined a plan to accelerate research during the current outbreak to ensure access to investigational doses and to facilitate scaling up and access to any vaccine subsequent licensees.

Evaluate efficiency

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Going for trial vaccines, the Ministry of Health will evaluate the efficacy of three candidate vaccines for the Sudan strain – Oxford from the UK and Sabin and Merck from the US.

The primary objective is to evaluate their efficacy to protect primary contacts of Ebola patients within 29 days of contact.

“By putting research at the heart of the outbreak response, we can achieve two goals: evaluate potentially effective candidate vaccines and potentially contribute to ending this outbreak and protecting at-risk populations in the future,” it said. the joint statement.

Makerere University’s Lung Institute will conduct clinical trials of the vaccine and therapy.

But while trials are delayed, new Ebola cases continue to rise and the ministry has complained for two weeks in a row about insufficient funding to effectively trace contacts, treat cases and conduct surveillance in areas already declared high-risk. .

Insufficient funding

Confirmed infections now stand at 131 and deaths at 46 as of November 1, 2022, with 2,183 contacts of confirmed cases traced or monitored.

Last week, Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said that while the government needed about $20 million ($72 billion) to contain the spread of the Ebola virus, donations were not coming directly to Uganda but through agencies such as the WHO.

The US ambassador to Uganda, Natalie E. Brown, whose government has already extended $85 billion ($22.3 million) to Uganda since the disease outbreak, said on Wednesday that most of the money was sent through other entities due to concern that funds released to the government are usually not accounted for.

“We work with partners here; are located throughout the country and have field contacts, structures to share an answer. But I think a very real concern, and I think every Ugandan shares this, is the issue of corruption in Uganda. There was a report released by the IGG (Government Inspector General) about the cost of corruption and how people will say ‘leakage’ of donor-linked funds where they should go from,” she said.

“This is a very real and serious challenge. And this is also one of the reasons why we work with so many partners instead of providing budget support.”

Budget increase

On Wednesday, Dr Aceng asked parliament for an additional Sh72 billion ($20 billion) budget to fund efforts to deal with the outbreak. She said the government still needs to allocate a significant amount of money to fight the disease, which is discouraging some partners from contributing.

“Partners usually ask about government input before declaring their sources. We are seeing partners declaring mobilized resources on social media, about which we have no information,” she said.

The highly contagious disease has spread to schools in Kampala and Mubende and over 30 contacts are being monitored, a situation that has sent shock waves among parents and the government.

In a move that many see as shifting responsibility to parents, Dr Aceng said schools should make arrangements to send children home sooner.

“It would be extremely good if the Ministry of Education would consider early exams so that we are left with only the candidates. The fewer students in the school, the easier it will be for us to carry out surveillance to see that they are safe”, said the minister.

Schools are scheduled to close on December 9, but the government is considering shortening the school term by two weeks to control the spread of the disease.

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