From a ridiculously hot Bundibugyo, greetings!
I thought a town nestled in the mountains would be cool with a fresh breeze blowing across the valley, but alas not. It is hot and dusty and feels like I am in Kivuulu and not thousands of miles away from the Kampala madness.
But mad, this place is not. The grass is being slashed and district offices are being given the once over because the mukubwa at the Ministry of Disease (or Ministry of Health for you) is visiting town. Three weeks after Ebola epidemic was officially declared, three weeks after seven senior health officers died, three weeks of fear and isolation, Stephen Malinga has decided to ‘grace’ Bundibugyo town with his presence.
Every once in a while you land on information that makes you say ‘aha’. Like information that when the Ebola epidemic first broke out in Bundibugyo district in August this year, a Ministry of Health team diagnosed it as worms and ordered for a massive de-worming campaign to contain the disease.
Here’s a brief rundown on the history of the epidemic as it was told to me by a highly-placed source in Bundibugyo.
Mid August 2007
The Senior Clinical Officer at Kikyo Health Center IV, about 14 kilometers from Bundibugyo town, reports that a number of patients turning up for treatment are displaying strange symptoms. They have very high fevers, severe abdominal pain and diahorrea. He says attempts to treat for malaria are futile and requests for urgent help.
Patients referred from Kikyo to Bundibugyo Hospital. A brief analysis by the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Stephen Ssesanga says the mysterious disease are intestinal worms and asks Kikyo to consider deworming and sensitization. A team consisting of Luswa Lukwago, Godfre Bwire, Aidah Kaihindo, Julius Lutwama and Andrew Bakanga arrives in Bundibugyo to study to Kikyo situation. After only one day at the Health Center, the team members conclude that indeed, the disease is caused by an infestation of askaris intestinal worms and recommend the mass de-worming of all adults in the area.
In the report dated October 5th, the team also made administrative recommendations for an appropriate system for admitting severe or highly infectious patients to be put in place and said the health center should be assisted to repair its ambulance.
Doubts persist regarding the diagnosis made and on November 6th the Bundibugyo Chief Administrative Officer sends a second team headed by the late Dr. Jonah Kule to investigate the disease. Dr. Kule, who died of Ebola last week, ruled out worms and said some type of typhoid fever was suspected, but said it was important that a more skilled team should be brought in to assess the situation.
November 10th a new group of Ministry of Health Staff led by Dr. Joseph Wamala and Dr. Atai Omurut arrived in Kikyo. They take with them protective gear and draw blood samples from the patients. Samples are sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease control laboratories in South Africa and Atlanta and for the next two weeks the team remains in Kikyo studying the patients and assisting in their treatment.
November 28th it is confirmed that Ebola is the cause of death in Bundibugyo and an epidemic is declared.
I have seen the documentation. I have talked to the medical staff. This is my conclusion: I don’t know what happened in the two weeks between the time when blood samples were taken and when Ebola was declared. However, the CHOGM cover up story seems most unlikely.
But what do I know for sure? I am just a non-journalist who fled the boredom of Kampala for a
maladventure in Bundibugyo. Or maybe I am a spy with the KGB …