Even when Kassanda District is under a lockdown over the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), there are still some super spreaders that have enabled the viral haemorrhagic disease to infect more people and kill others in the district. One super spreader is the locals’ insistence to exhume bodies of known Ebola victims in order to perform rituals on the same and re-bury them.
The re-burials are in total disregard of the protocols and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) expected to be followed in the burial of Ebola victims so as to minimize the spread of the deadly disease. Bodies of Ebola victims can still spread the virus that causes EVD to those still alive.
Yet even when officials and teams from the Ministry of Health and its partners have conducted sensitization campaigns and urged locals to avoid getting in contact with bodies of Ebola victims, a number of people are yet to take this advice seriously — and they are paying the price for disregarding this piece of advice, some with their lives.
Recently, health experts named Kassanda District the epicentre of the Ebola Virus Disease, with the number of cases increasing significantly even when the district is under a lockdown. Now, it seems the rise in infections is linked to the super spreader action of exhuming bodies, performing rituals on them and re-burying them without any personal protective equipment.
On Tuesday, November 01, Health Minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero, Permanent Secretary Dr Diana Atwine Kanzira and Director General of Health Services Dr Henry Mwebsa were joined by US ambassador to Uganda Natalie Brown, UNICEF Representative to Uganda Munir Safieldin, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Mohamed Fall, and USAID’s Atul Gawande, WHO, CDC, MoH technical teams and other partners to assess the ongoing Ebola Outbreak response in the districts of Kassanda and Mubende.
The team visited the proposed site for the construction of an isolation facility in Kassanda District and interacted with the communities whom they talked to about Ebola, the dangers of running away from teams and the advantages of going for treatment when it is still early.
During the interactions with members of the communities, Dr Geofrey Bwire, an assistant commissioner at MoH, expressed concern with the rate at which locals are exhuming bodies of Ebola victims even when they were buried by specialized district burial teams. That hours after the burials are conducted by professional health teams, the locals go and exhume them at night.
According to Dr Bwire, in Kalwana Village of Kikandwa Sub County, locals had exhumed the body of a person who had succumbed to Ebola at night only a few hours after the funeral was conducted by the specialized burial team. He further told the interaction meeting that the intention of exhumation of the body was for the performance of rituals on it. Making it clear that bodies of those who have died from Ebola are highly infectious, Bwire revealed that many people were infected with the viral haemorrhagic disease in the process.
To just paint a picture of how the exhumation of the body was a super spreader, Dr Bwire revealed that from the group which was part of that night exhumation and ritual performance act alone, many are part of the new 23 cases of Ebola have been recently confirmed. These are just some of the 47 patients in the district.
A total of 546 contacts of those who were part of that burial have been identified for followup — and the chain continues. When Museveni placed Kassanda under a lockdown last month, the district had only 15 confirmed cases, but the number has since more than tripled.
Meanwhile, three young men who were part of the exhumation of the body of the Ebola victim in Kalwana Village, Kikandwa Sub County, are said to have succumbed to EVD after contracting the virus during the exhumation, re-burial and performance of rituals on the body of a person that doctors had confirmed had died of Ebola.
During the interaction with community members, Health Minister Dr Aceng warned that the habit of exhuming bodies of Ebola victims was hampering effects to stop the spread of the viral haemorrhagic disease and could kill hundreds or even thousands of people in the district if locals did not stop it. She emphasized that members of communities must not forget that even bodies are infectious, and can spread the virus to the living. She asked leaders to join efforts to sensitize locals on the dangers of exhuming bodies.
It also emerged that some locals have threatened to harm members of specialized burial teams who stop them from performing rituals on the dead bodies. It was against this threat that some officials from the Ministry of Health asked government to ensure that specialized burial teams are given more police officers to secure their lives from mob action by locals.
On his part, UNICEF’s Dr Dr Munir Safieldin acknowledged that communities “highly regard rituals,” and underscored the need for MoH and partners “to have a different approach to behavioral change” since there cannot be enough police officers to be deployed at the graves of Ebola victims.
Last month, President Museveni placed the districts of Mubende and Kassanda under an Ebola lockdown, by issuing 24 directives. (Read them in the full third Ebola address HERE).
Meanwhile, Ugandan schools are likely to close early over Ebola. (See Details Here).