KAMPALA, UGANDAThe Ugandan government says it will end the school year earlier than planned because of an Ebola outbreak that has affected 23 students, including eight children who died.

The Ministry of Education and Sports has directed all schools across the country to close early for third term holidays.

Millions of Ugandan students in primary and secondary schools will be affected by the decision to end the semester two weeks early, due to the ongoing Ebola virus outbreak.

The Ebola outbreak has since claimed the lives of eight learners, forcing government to direct schools to close on November 25 instead of December 6.

Addressing a press conference yesterday, the State Minister for Primary Education, Ms Joyce Kaducu, said: “We decided to shorten the term by two weeks to curb the spread of the virus among learners and staff.”

According to the Ministry of Education, Ebola cases were found at five schools in the Kampala, Wakiso and Mubende districts.

Kaducu said the Cabinet of President Yoweri Museveni made the decision to close schools nationwide based on concerns that crowded schools will increase infection rates for the virus.

The schools with affected children have been cordoned off and are being asked to decontaminate their facilities so children can safely return after the new year.

On Saturday, the government extended a three-week lockdown on the neighbouring districts of Mubende and Kassanda, which have been the centre of the Ebola outbreak.

The measures include a dusk-to-dawn curfew, a ban on personal travel, and the closure of markets, bars and churches.

The decision to end the school term early is a disappointment to many families. Ugandan schools were closed for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic before reopening earlier this year.

On Saturday, the government extended a three-week lockdown on the neighbouring districts of Mubende and Kassanda, which have been the centre of the Ebola outbreak.

The measures include a dusk-to-dawn curfew, a ban on personal travel, and the closure of markets, bars and churches.

Nearly all Ebola outbreaks have occurred in Africa and transmission of the virus typically occurs when a person comes into contact with the bodily fluids of another infected individual.

The current spread of the virus has government officials, emergency responders and health care workers preparing for the worst.

Much of that alarm has to do with where the virus has spread. The outbreak has now extended to a major metropolitan community, and that’s not a good thing,” says Mark Feinberg, the CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

This current outbreak of Ebola in Uganda is a bit different than most previous outbreaks. It is caused by a different species of Ebola, Sudan ebola virus, for which there is no approved vaccine.

Most previous outbreaks were caused by Zaire ebola virus, for which an effective vaccine was developed in 2018. That vaccine won’t work in this outbreak.

Three experimental vaccines for Sudan ebola virus are in development and could be used in Uganda, but they have yet to be tested in an outbreak scenario. Of these vaccines, one was developed by Oxford, another by the Sabin Institute, and the third by IAVI and manufactured by Merck.

Recent reports have stated that 100,000 doses of the IAVI and Merck vaccine are in the process of being released to Uganda for clinical trials. However, that vaccine exists in bulk form and needs to be allocated into doses before it can be used.

Even though the vaccines haven’t yet been tested for efficacy in humans, there’s confidence that they’ll be effective. “The diseases are similar, the vaccines are similar, we expect the performance will be similar, but obviously we still have to prove that,” says Feinberg about the vaccine that IAVI developed.

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