KAMPALA, Uganda/GENEVA, Switzerland - Fears are escalating over the potential spread of the deady Ebola virus, after a third case of the disease has been confirmed in Uganda.
Until recent days the current Ebola outbreak had been restricted to the West African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Now three cases have emerged in Uganda. Two of those who have contracted the disease have died.
UN humanitarian agencies are working overtime to contain the virus.
Now the World Health Organization (WHO) is contemplating whether to declare an international public health emergency.
A meeting on Friday of WHO officials is set to discuss the issue.
"The second of three persons who were confirmed Ebola positive has passed away," WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic in Geneva Thursday. "Obviously, it is very important that the Ministry of Health together with the WHO go quickly to this area where the cases have been identified to make sure that all those who may have been in contact with these people have been monitored."
Ugandan authorities, have confirmed that since Tuesday a five-year-old boy and his 50-year-old grandmother have both passed away after contracting Ebola.
The young boy became ill after visiting DRC's Mabalako Health Zone to attend the burial of his grandfather, a confirmed Ebola-sufferer, who died in the community two weeks ago.
The boy and his family then returned to Uganda through the Bwera border on Monday, where relatives sought help at Kagando hospital for symptoms including vomiting and bloody diarrhoea.
Health workers identified Ebola as a possible cause of illness and he was transferred to an Ebola treatment centre at Bwera, Kasese.
He died on Tuesday night before being given a dignified burial, according to the Ugandan authorities, which noted that in addition to the boy's grandmother who succumbed to the Ebola virus, his three-year-brother has now also tested positive to the disease.
A fourth suspect case , a 23-year-old man from Mukungu village in Katwe, is also awaiting lab confirmation and some 27 contacts of the victims have been identified so far, the health ministry statement added.
The Ugandan authorities say the Minister of Health, WHO's Representative in Uganda and other partners had met at Bwera Hospital on Wednesday to discuss an action plan.
Initial measures to prevent the transmission of Ebola include a ban on mass gatherings such as markets, the vaccination of contacts and health workers, and a public information radio campaign to allay concerns and rumours about the outbreak.
Alongside WHO, UNICEF announced that it had launched an emergency Ebola response plan in Uganda, in response to the latest developments.
The move follows months of preparedness and prevention efforts as Ebola cases have continued to increase in DRC, where there have been more than 2,000 infections and nearly 1,400 deaths in the country's worst recorded outbreak which began last August.
"As our thoughts are with this young boy's family, this is a tragic reminder that even one case of Ebola is one too many," UNICEF's Representative in Uganda, Dr. Doreen Mulenga said Thursday. "We must do everything possible to stop this outbreak in its tracks and prevent other needless deaths."
In recent months, UNICEF has supported the government of Uganda implement extensive programmes to make sure communities in numerous districts in western Uganda bordering the DRC are prepared for a potential outbreak.
In a bid to stop the Ebola outbreak taking foot in Uganda, UNICEF has already made nearly 350,000 household visits to share information about the disease and the importance of seeking help quickly.
More than 14,000 public meetings have also been held at schools, churches, mosques, markets, bus stops and funeral gatherings to discuss Ebola prevention, reaching around 2.4 million people.
Other measures include building capacity for infection prevention and control in health facilities through water, sanitation and hygiene interventions, and training nearly 1,500 Uganda Red Cross volunteers and para-social workers to support communities dealing with Ebola-related stress.
"Awareness is the best way to prevent the spread of this virus," Dr. Mulenga said. "Strategically communicating the correct knowledge and best practices to affected communities is critical to doing so."
(File photo. Credit: World Bank | Vincent Tremeau).