Uganda was declared Ebola free on Wednesday after the latest outbreak of the virus claimed almost 60 lives in about five months.
"Today we join the Government of Uganda to declare the end of the Sudan Ebola Virus Outbreak in the Country," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization's Regional Director for Africa.
The outbreak of the deadly virus was declared over after 42 days without a new case being reported - double the incubation period for the virus, per WHO protocols. The highly contagious disease spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids, and causes fatigue, fever and bleeding from the eyes and nose. It kills almost half of those who become infected.
Life and death in an Ebola hot-zone
This outbreak, which involved the Ebola Sudan strain of the virus, began in September and killed 56 people, including seven health care workers, and caused 142 confirmed infections.
As the outbreak began to spread in September in one part of the country, officials were hesitant in the wake of recent coronavirus lockdowns to impose another ban on movement within the country. Several health officials told CBS News this early inaction allowed the virus to spread to nine districts, including the densely populated capital Kampala.
Only in December were a curfew and restrictions on movement introduced in the affected districts. By then, the United States and other countries had issued orders to screen all travelers from Uganda arriving at their airports.
The acting director of Africa's Centers for Disease Control, Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, has praised the Ugandan government for its "excellent" coordination of Ebola containment measures, saying it had taken approximately 70 days to bring the outbreak under control.
African health authorities had prioritized preparedness for the deadly virus after devastating outbreaks of the Ebola Zaire strain in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013 and 2016 killed more than 11,300 people.
Those outbreaks inspired global fear that air travel could allow the virus to spread across the world in a matter of hours. That fear helped galvanize research and funding for vaccines to protect against the Zaire strain of the virus.
Three candidate vaccines in development for the Ebola Zaire strain were sent to Uganda, with the first arriving on December 8, to be evaluated in a clinical trial being run by the Makerere University Lung Institute, as there is currently no vaccine proven to be effective against the Sudan strain of the virus.
Critics have said an opportunity was missed as the candidate vaccines only arrived as the virus was waning. The delays meant a chance to trial the drugs amid an evolving outbreak was missed. However, the limited trial did prove the vaccines safe to use on humans.
In December, doctors discharged the last known Ebola patient in Uganda from hospital, allowing President Yoweri Museveni to lift all Ebola-related restrictions and curfews for the holiday season.
"With no vaccines and therapeutics, this was one of the most challenging Ebola outbreaks in the past five years, but Uganda stayed the course and continuously fine-tuned its response," said the WHO's Moeti. "Two months ago, it looked as if Ebola would cast a dark shadow over the country well into 2023, as the outbreak reached major cities such as Kampala and Jinja, but this win starts off the year on a note of great hope for Africa."
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