(KAMPALA, Uganda) – Hundreds of refugees have traversed Uganda from the Congo in the days following the turbulent presidential elections in that country, a Red Cross official said on Wednesday, heightened concerns about the possible cross-border spread of Ebola. Separately, the head of the World Health Organization said he had asked the supplier of an experimental vaccine to produce more.
The influx of refugees began the day after Sunday's vote and since then dozens of people have arrived at a time, said Irene Nakasiita, Red Cross spokeswoman in Uganda.
Some Congolese who try to cross the border have been forced to turn back after resisting the efforts of Ugandan health officials who have selected people for Ebola, he said.
The Government of Congo has quoted the Ebola epidemic in the north-east of the country for a controversial decision to block around 1 million voters from the elections. Protests followed, with some people having damaged the response facilities at Ebola and some help groups forced to suspend work for days.
The Internet was interrupted in the Congo this week in an apparent effort by the government to prevent speculation on social media outcomes, while opposition and observers have reported various problems with the elections.
Internet disruption has also affected Ebola's response efforts, with the Congo health ministry on Wednesday citing "technical problems" due to the delay in sending its daily update on the epidemic.
More than 600 cases of Ebola have been reported, with over 360 deaths confirmed since August. The epidemic is the second most deadly in history.
The epidemic has been difficult to control between armed violence and community protests, and violence has increased "in intensity and frequency," said the head of the World Health Organization on Wednesday.
Yet "there is reason to hope" the epidemic will be brought under control as soon as possible, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. He spent the New Year in the Congo.
Among the electoral protests last week, Tedros warned that "the prolonged insecurity" in the Congo could lead to an increase in new cases of Ebola.
Some of the Ebola cases in this outbreak have been reported near the heavily traveled border with Uganda. For months, Ugandan officials have submitted all steps for official border posts to mandatory screening of Ebola.
The Ebola virus spreads through direct contact with the fluids of an infected person.
More than 50,000 people have received an experimental vaccine. Tedros said that there were enough doses of the vaccine available "but at the same time we have already asked the supplier to produce more".