Uganda Avoids Marburg Virus Disaster

Uganda has successfully contained an outbreak of Marburg virus, just weeks after it was first detected. Within 24 hours of being notified of the first confirmed death, the WHO deployed a rapid response team to the area:

Marburg is a highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as that of Ebola. It can be transmitted from person to person by bodily fluids, and can cause bleeding, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms.

This was the fifth outbreak of Marburg virus in a decade, and lessons have been learned from those outbreaks, as well as from the West African Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people.

Surveillance and contact tracing are critical in containing the virus:

“The response to the Marburg virus disease outbreak demonstrates how early alert and response, community engagement, strong surveillance and coordinated efforts can stop an outbreak in its tracks before it ravages communities,” said Dr Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

World AIDS Day

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. Globally, it’s estimated there are 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS. There were approximately 1.8 million new infections in 2016, many occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. In the U.S., there are about 1.1 million people living with HIV and roughly 1 in 7 don’t know it.

It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

NPR has an article about, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, who started an HIV/AIDS non profit in Uganda. His group, the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project, provides education to children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS. Kaguri sees World AIDS Day as a helpful way to raise donations, but notes:

“What is frustrating is that people only think about the issue for just one day, then go on to something else,” he says. “Someone will give us a $50 check on World AIDS Day and think that they saved the world … until another World AIDS Day comes along…”

Many countries still don’t talk about infection rates in their countries. South Africa [where 19 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive] still has leadership that denies HIV/AIDS is a problem, like former president Thabo Mbeki. And [in 2006, former president] Jacob Zuma was caught sleeping with a prostitute. When they asked him if he was worried about contracting HIV/AIDS, he said, “Oh no, I took a shower after we had sex.” The country has put a blanket over its head when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

As a complement to World AIDS Day, the WHO is promoting the “right to health” theme, as a way to “highlight the need for all 36.7 million people living with HIV and those who are vulnerable and affected by the epidemic, to reach the goal of universal health coverage.”

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