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Ebola closes 300 schools

UGANDA

THE government has closed 300 schools and restricted the movement of pupils following the recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in northern Uganda.

By Tuesday, 60 people had died of the disease, among them 16 primary pupils, according to first reports. It was confirmed that two students who had gone to help the victims also died this week.

Health minister Cryspus Kiyonga said the schools were closed to prevent the spread of Ebola, which has been contracted by 165 people in the Gulu district in the north of the country.

The government and aid organisations have dispatched more than 1,500 health technicians and community volunteers to alert residents to the disease.

Mark Avola of the World Vision aid agency said his organisation had deployed about 475 community workers in Aswa, Kajubi and Kabedo-Opong, three counties most affected by the epidemic.

"People think the disease is caused by an evil spirit and they don't know how to protect themselves," said Mr Avola.

The health teams are advising the public to maintain high standards of hygiene, since some of the pupils who died belonged to twofamilies who used the blankets of dead relatives in which to wrap themselves.

In customary burials, families wrap first the dead and then themselves with the same blankets. The rite is perceived as vital in retaining contact with the dead.

Health officials have traced the epidemic in Gulu to one Esther Aweta who died at Kabedo-Opong.

They said most of the Ebola cases in the other two counties were linked to people who had attended Aweta's funeral.

Funeral ceremonies have been suspended and a burial site for Ebola victims has been set aside in Gulu.

Where relatives insist on burial in the victims' village, health officials bury them and relatives are kept away. Bedding, clothes and feeding utensils of the deceased are being destroyed by the officials.

In neighbouring Kenya, the education ministry cancelled mid-term holidays for boarding schools in Turkana district, which borders Gulu.

Officials are also discouraging Turkana children and their families from visiting relatives in the Gulu area. Many Turkana families have migrated across the border, where they have been given grazing rights.

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