WHO chief urges focus on primary healthcare to achieve universal health coverage

By Jerry Omondi

The Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. /AFP

The world ought to shift its focus to concentrate more on primary healthcare in efforts to achieve universal healthcare, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom.

Dr. Tedros made the remarks on Monday at the European Investment Bank (EIB) – WHO Health Event.

“The best way to do this is to invest in and reorient health systems towards primary health care as the foundation of universal health coverage,” he said.

“More than 90 percent of essential health services can be delivered through primary health care, including many services to promote health, prevent disease, and avoid or delay the need for more costly secondary and tertiary care.”

Dr. Tedros pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic had provided a demonstration that when health is at risk, everything is at risk.

He noted that the crisis had disrupted societies, economies, businesses, trade, politics, education and many other facets of life.

The WHO chief also used the opportunity to convey WHO’s gratitude to the EIB for its commitment of 500 million Euros to support primary health care in sub-Saharan countries.

“This investment will provide much-needed support to national governments to strengthen primary health care, and improve capacities to prepare for, prevent and respond to health emergencies,” he said.

South Sudan sends samples of suspected Ebola cases to South Africa for testing

By Jerry Omondi

The five suspected cases were detected in the states of Eastern Equatoria, Western Equatoria, and Central Equatoria. /CFP

South Sudan’s health authorities, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), said they have sent three samples out of five unconfirmed cases of Ebola to South Africa for testing.

The dispatch comes as Uganda continues to battle an outbreak of the deadly disease, which was first reported on September 20 in the Mubende district. So far 38 cases have been confirmed in the East African country with eight deaths officially reported.

Alex Freeman, the Head of the WHO Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC), told journalists in Juba that South Sudan had raised the levels of preparedness to detect, isolate and manage suspected Ebola viral disease (EVD) cases.

Mabior Kiir, the Manager for the Public Health Emergency Operation Center, said the five suspected cases were detected in the states of Eastern Equatoria, Western Equatoria, and Central Equatoria.

Ebola kills doctor in Uganda, first health worker killed in latest outbreak


A Tanzanian doctor working in Uganda who contracted Ebola has died, the first health worker killed by the disease in the latest outbreak in the country, Uganda’s health minister said on Saturday.

“I regret to announce that we have lost our first doctor, Dr. Mohammed Ali, a Tanzanian national, 37-year-old Male,” the health minister, Jane Ruth Aceng, tweeted.

She said Ali had tested positive for Ebola on Sept. 26 and died while receiving treatment at a hospital in Fort Portal, a town about 300 kilometres west of the capital Kampala.Advertisement · Scroll to continue

Authorities in the east African nation announced the outbreak of the deadly hemorrhagic fever on Sept. 20 triggering fears of a major health crisis in the country of 45 million people.

There is no vaccine for the Sudan strain of the disease behind the latest Uganda infections.

The health ministry said on Friday, before Ali’s death, that the disease had so far infected 35 people and killed seven.

Ali was among six health workers who include doctors, an anesthesiologist and one medical student who have contracted the disease.

Ebola mainly spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. The viral disease has symptoms including intense weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat, vomiting, diarrhoea and rashes among others.

Kenya heightens health screening at western border points as Uganda battles Ebola outbreak

By Jerry Omondi

Uganda declared its ongoing Ebola outbreak on September 20 in Mubende district. /CFP

Kenya’s Health Ministry says it has heightened screening along its western border points following the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Uganda.

Ag Director of Acting Director-General for Health, Dr. Patrick Amoth, while speaking to journalists urged Kenyans to minimize cross-border movements in order to minimize the risk of spreading the deadly disease.

“We appeal to members of the public to minimize their movements in and out of the country through entry points along our Western border unless it is extremely necessary. Those crossing at any of our border points should exercise maximum care as advised and guided by our health personnel at the entry points,” state broadcaster KBC quotes Dr. Amoth.

Dr. Amoth’s remarks came as tests on a suspected case of Ebola in the western county of Kakamega returned negative results. The patient, a 32-year-old man who had recently traveled to Uganda, remains in isolation in accordance with health guidelines.

“We would like to appeal to members of the public to continue being vigilant and also stay safe by strictly observing hygiene measures that would protect them against this deadly disease,” Dr. Amoth added.

Uganda declared its ongoing Ebola outbreak on September 20 in the Mubende district.

So far 38 cases have been confirmed in Uganda with eight deaths officially reported.

WHO says depression, anxiety costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion

By Halligan Agade

The UN health agency World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization (ILO) submitted on Wednesday that an estimated 12 billion workdays are lost yearly due to depression and anxiety, costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion, more action is needed to tackle mental health issues at work.

Graphics by Bemnet Goitom.

The UN agencies also launched two publications that aim to prevent negative work situations and cultures while also offering mental health protection and support for employees.

“It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General at WHO, which has issued global guidelines on the issue.

“The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity.”

The WHO guidelines contain actions to tackle risks to mental health at work such as heavy workloads, negative behaviors, and other factors that can create distress.

For the first time, the UN health agency recommends manager training, to build their capacity to prevent stressful work environments and respond to workers’ needs.

A workplace taboo

WHO’s World Mental Health Report, published in June, revealed that of one billion people estimated to be living with a mental disorder in 2019, 15 percent of working-age adults experienced a mental disorder.

The workplace amplifies wider societal issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality, the agency said.

Bullying and psychological violence, also known as “mobbing,” is a key complaint of workplace harassment that has a negative impact on mental health. However, discussing or disclosing mental health remains taboo in work settings globally.

The guidelines also recommend better ways to accommodate the needs of workers with mental health conditions and propose interventions that support their return to work.

Increasing opportunities

They also outline measures to ease entry into the jobs market, for those workers with severe mental health conditions.

Importantly, the guidelines call for interventions for the protection of health, humanitarian, and emergency workers.

A separate policy brief with ILO explains the WHO guidelines in terms of practical strategies for governments, employers and workers, and their organizations, in both the public and private sectors.

The objective is to support the prevention of mental health risks, protect and promote mental health at work, and support those with mental health conditions, so they can participate and thrive at work.

“As people spend a large proportion of their lives in work – a safe and healthy working environment is critical,” said, Guy Ryder, the ILO Director-General.

“We need to invest to build a culture of prevention around mental health at work, reshape the work environment to stop stigma and social exclusion, and ensure employees with mental health conditions feel protected and supported.”

Lack of national programs

However, only 35 percent of countries reported having national programs for work-related mental health promotion and prevention.

The coronavirus pandemic triggered a 25 percent increase in general anxiety and depression worldwide, according to WHO research published in March.

The crisis exposed how unprepared governments were for its impact on mental health, as well as a chronic global shortage of mental health resources.

In 2020, governments worldwide spent an average of just two percent of health budgets on mental health, with lower-middle income countries allocating less than one percent.

(With input from UN-News)

Cholera Surging Globally as Climate Change Intensifies

Lisa Schlein

A mother sits with her child who was diagnosed with cholera in a hospital in Deir el-Zour, Syria, Sept. 29, 2022.

GENEVA — Cholera is surging around the globe, the World Health Organization warns.

Flareups of the deadly disease have been reported in 26 countries in the first nine months of this year. In comparison, fewer than 20 countries reported cholera outbreaks per year between 2017 and 2021. In addition to greater frequency, the WHO reports the outbreaks themselves are larger and more deadly.

While poverty and conflict are major triggers of cholera, climate change is a growing threat.

Philippe Barboza, WHO team lead for Cholera and Epidemic Diarrheal Diseases, said climate change presents an additional layer of complexity and creates the conditions for cholera outbreaks to explode.

“This is what we have seen in southern Africa with the succession of cyclones that affected the eastern part of the African Coast,” Barboza said. “The drought in East Africa is driving population movements, reducing access to water, which is already needed. So, of course, it is a key factor, which is fueling the outbreak. And the same in Sahel and other places.”

Fifteen of the 26 cholera-infected countries are in Africa, according to the WHO.

FILE - A girl carrying water on her head walks past sewage around houses in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 3, 2021.
FILE – A girl carrying water on her head walks past sewage around houses in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 3, 2021.

Barboza said massive climate-induced floods in Southeast Asia also have resulted in large outbreaks of cholera in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many countries that have made significant progress in controlling cholera are now back to square one, he added.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by contaminated food or water. It can kill within hours if left untreated. Cholera outbreaks can be prevented by ensuring access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, as well as stepping up surveillance and access to health care, Barboza said.

“This is what we need countries to do, but that is easier said than done. Although many of the cholera-affected countries are actively engaged in these efforts, they are facing multiple crises, including conflict and poverty, and this is why international action is so important,” he said.

Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, Barboza said, so with the right foresight and action, the current global crisis can be reversed.

Ugandan leader rules out lockdown over Ebola


Yoweri Museveni says that his government has the capacity to control the epidemic

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has said that there is no need to impose restrictions in Ebola hotspots in the central region because the viral disease is not airborne.

Ebola is spread through contact with an infected person or infected surfaces and human waste.

The association of medical workers in the country had previously called for the affected region to be put under quarantine to stop further spread of the haemorrhagic fever.

Mr Museveni said his government had the capacity to control the epidemic due to previous experience with similar outbreaks. This is the fourth time Ebola has broken out in Uganda.

He said that health experts who had previously dealt with Ebola outbreaks had been deployed to the affected region.

It is currently taking 24 hours for samples to be tested and laboratory results to be released.

The president said the government would set up a laboratory at Mubende district headquarters, the epicentre of the outbreak, to quicken the sample processing.

Six medical workers who treated the 24-year-old man who was later identified as the first case, have tested positive for Ebola.

A total of 24 people have been confirmed to be infected by the virus in the country, five of whom have died, since the outbreak was declared last week.

Uganda Fights Deadly Ebola Outbreak as President Assures It’s Under Control

Halima Athumani

Ugandan Medical staff members assemble beds to be used in the Ebola treatment Isolation Unit at Mubende regional referral hospital in Uganda on Sept. 24, 2022.

KAMPALA — Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has assured the country that an Ebola outbreak is under control and that no restrictions on movement are needed. The country’s health officials confirmed cases of a deadly Sudan ebolavirus with six reported deaths out of 31 confirmed cases. Uganda’s medical association says some of its members are critically ill and has threatened to join a strike by medical interns over what they say is inadequate personal protective equipment.

In an address to the nation Wednesday night, President Yoweri Museveni urged Ugandans to avoid coming in contact with body fluids such as blood, feces and vomit from infected people.

Even though the source for the Sudan ebolavirus, a strain for which the World Health Organization says cross-protection of vaccine for other Ebola strains has not been established, Museveni warned Ugandans against eating meat from monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni assures the country that an Ebola outbreak is under control and that no restrictions on movement are needed, Sept. 29, 2022.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni assures the country that an Ebola outbreak is under control and that no restrictions on movement are needed, Sept. 29, 2022.

“I want to reassure Ugandans and all residents that the government has the capacity to control this outbreak as we have done before. Therefore, there’s no need for anxiety, panic, restriction of movement or unnecessary closure of public places like schools, markets, places of worship etc. as of now,” he said.

The 31 Ebola cases confirmed so far include six health care workers, including four doctors, one anesthesiologist and one medical student who was exposed to the first case in the district of Mubende, Kyegegwa and Kassanda.

Museveni who cautioned Ugandans against shaking hands also says Uganda is still discussing a vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus that was first reported on August 6. Uganda only has a stock of the Zaire ebolavirus that was reported in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. There is currently no approved vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus.

“One of the issues we were debating the other day was, why not use the vaccine of Ebola Zaire. Even though it’s not specific for Ebola Sudan, but it’s Ebola,” he said. “They share some of the characteristics. And it is safe. And we have used it on our soldiers. So, is there any harm in trying it?”

The government has now set up an Ebola treatment unit with a 51-bed capacity for confirmed cases and 80 beds for suspected cases.

To shorten the turnaround time of sampling, processing and improving patient care, two mobile diagnostic laboratories will be deployed in the Mubende district by Friday.

Ugandan Medical staff members assemble beds to be used in the Ebola treatment isolation unit at Mubende regional referral hospital, Sept. 24, 2022.
Ugandan Medical staff members assemble beds to be used in the Ebola treatment isolation unit at Mubende regional referral hospital, Sept. 24, 2022.

Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng also allayed fears among health workers especially those infected with the virus.

“We want to appreciate the work that they are doing. But also reassure them that they will be taken care of and given the necessary supportive care and treatment so that we ensure that we don’t lose them,” she said.

President of the Uganda Medical Association Dr. Sam Oledo, however, describes a different situation in the affected districts for health workers.

“When we start losing health workers, I don’t think it can be under control. It’s painful that this morning the intern and the SHO [Senior Health Officer] are on oxygen, and they are not doing well. What we are trying to mobilize now is ICU management. We cannot afford to have the corpse of a medic at such a time. And I assure you, if the worst happens, we shall withdraw services in Mubende,” he said.

The Sudan ebolavirus is less common than the Zaire ebolavirus and has no current, effective vaccine. Sudan ebolavirus was first reported in Southern Sudan in 1976. Although several outbreaks have been reported since then in both Uganda and Sudan, the deadliest outbreak in Uganda was in 2000 claiming over 200 lives.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak, in 2019, was confirmed to be the Zaire ebolavirus. It last reported a Sudan ebolavirus outbreak in 2012.

Ebola infections grow in Uganda as death toll rises to 23

By Nimi Princewill

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health Diana Atwine, center, confirms a case of Ebola in the country, at a press conference in Kampala, Uganda September 20.

Ebola infections have risen across districts in Uganda, bringing the cumulative number of confirmed and suspected deaths to 23, health authorities in the east African country said Monday.

Uganda declared an Ebola outbreak last Tuesday after a case of the relatively rare Sudan strain was detected in the country’s Mubende district.

The virus has now spread to neighboring Kyegegwa and Kassanda districts, with the Ugandan Health Ministry reporting that cumulative cases had risen to 36, including confirmed and probable cases. No cases have been detected in the capital city Kampala.11 dead in suspected and confirmed Ebola cases in Uganda

The Ugandan Health Ministry considers a “probable case” as any person who died from suspected EVD (ebola) and had an epidemiological link to a confirmed case but was not tested and did not have lab confirmation.

The ministry considers “confirmed cases” as those with positive lab results. Of the number of infections identified so far, 18 of the cases have been confirmed to be infected while another 18 were suspected of having the virus.

The ministry also stated that five of the deceased patients were confirmed to have died of the virus while 18 were listed as probable deaths. Around 35 patients are currently being admitted, it added.

Uganda has experienced four Ebola outbreaks. The deadliest left more than 200 people dead in 2000.

According to the World Health Organization, vaccination against the rare Sudan strain hasn’t been tested for efficacy. However, the Ervebo (rVSV-ZEBOV) vaccine has been found to be effective in protecting against the Zaire variant of the Ebola virus.

Ebola Cases, Fatalities Rise in Uganda

Lisa Schlein

A member of the Ugandan Medical staff of the Ebola Treatment Unit stands inside the ward at Mubende Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda, Sept. 24, 2022.

GENEVA — A highly contagious strain of the deadly Ebola virus in Uganda is causing a quick and significant rise in the number of cases and fatalities, the World Health Organization said.

Uganda health officials declared an outbreak of Ebola a week ago. Five days later, on September 25, they confirmed the disease had infected 36 people, killing 23.

It is the first Ebola disease outbreak caused by the Sudan virus in Uganda since 2012. A vaccine is available to protect adults from becoming infected with the more common Zaire strain of Ebola. However, a similar vaccine does not exist for the Sudan virus.

Ana Marie Henao-Restrepo, WHO co-lead R & D Blueprint for epidemics in the Health Emergency Program, said several possible vaccines are under development.

“We have identified there are three candidate vaccines that have … clinical data, data from humans on safety and homogenicity. It is specifically designed to protect against the Sudan virus and that could be tested in a randomized trial in Uganda, if the Ugandan authorities decide to do so,” she said.

Ugandan Medical staff members assemble beds to be used in the Ebola treatment isolation unit at Mubende regional referral hospital in Uganda, Sept. 24, 2022.
Ugandan Medical staff members assemble beds to be used in the Ebola treatment isolation unit at Mubende regional referral hospital in Uganda, Sept. 24, 2022.

The Ebola virus is spread by contact with an infected patient’s blood or bodily fluids. The WHO reports the median age of cases in Uganda is 26, with 62 percent female and 38 percent male. The disease has a fatality rate of 41 percent.

WHO spokeswoman Carla Drysdale said WHO experts are working with Uganda’s experienced Ebola control teams to reinforce diagnosis, treatment and preventive measures.

“While there is no vaccine to treat Sudan Ebola virus, other health measures such as swift detection, community engagement, isolation of patients, and early supportive care have proven to save lives in similar outbreaks,” Drysdale said. “We must raise awareness in the community that seeking treatment early significantly increases chances of survival.”

While Uganda is struggling to prevent Ebola from spreading, the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared on Tuesday the end of an Ebola outbreak, which emerged in North Kivu Province six weeks ago. North Kivu, which has a vaccine against the Zaire virus, experienced only one confirmed case of Ebola and no deaths.