Five of the seven people, who died this month in Mubende District, and whose deaths epidemiologists are now investigating as probable Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) cases, were from the same family.
Our investigations, corroborated by accounts offered by health workers and local political leaders, show that the deceased at different times presented with similar symptoms: body pain, chest pain, headache, high fever, sore throat and mouth and bleeding through orifices.
Each of the quintet were buried without formal autopsies, leading to suspicions about the cause of death that Ministry of Health experts on the ground are trying to establish through “verbal” post-mortem.
Relatives interviewed for this article said the first person to contract and succumb to what they had considered a “strange illness” was a 56-year-old grandmother. The other family members were three children, aged 10 months to two years, and a 32-year-old woman.
Each was first admitted to St Florence Medical Clinic in Madudu before their referral and transfer to Mubende Regional Referral Hospital where they died days apart within a fortnight.
Mr Vicent Ssebuuma said his elder sister Melinda Nassazi, 56, developed multiple symptoms and died on September 1.
Another sister, who went for the burial and stayed over for four days, returned home and became ill, dying 12 days later.
“I suspect that it is where she contracted the disease from … How I wish she did not spend all that time at our sister’s home mourning, [because] she would have been alive now. But satan never allowed it to happen,” Mr Sebuuma said.
On September 12, a 10-month-old daughter of Sebuuma’s younger brother presented with similar symptoms and died in Kiboga District. She was buried in Bulega, Kiruuma Sub-county in Mubende District.
Two days later, a two-year-old girl, who was a daughter of one of the siblings in the family, also passed on before a 10-month-old girl died at Mubende Hospital on September 18.
The emerging details of the deaths and the relations between the deceased have prompted inquiries focused on the family and St Florence Medical Clinic, the first facility where they were taken for treatment.
“That clinic should be closed for now to lower the chances of infecting the community but we are going to have a meeting about this issue and see how we can save people,” Ms Rosemary Byabashaija, the Mubende resident district commissioner, said.
There are separate claims by the family of Jackson Ssembule, the 24-year-old man the government on Monday confirmed to have succumbed to EVD, that he likely contracted the disease at the clinic.
“The nurse [who] attended to our son (Ssembule) died two days after attending to him and the clinic has been receiving patients with [Ebola-like] signs,” Ms Ruth Namwanje, 50, a resident of Ngabano in Mududu Sub-county, Mubende District, said.
Relatives told this publication that the deceased was initially treated at St Florence Medical Clinic for chicken pox before developing fever, diarrhoea, and bleeding symptoms days upon returning from the health facility.
The family hinges its suspicion on the death of a nurse at the clinic, two days after treating Ssembule, making her the sixth to die before Monday’s confirmation by the government of the outbreak of EVD in the country.
However, Dr Anatoli Musitwa, the proprietor of St Florence Medical Clinic, dismissed the claims of cross-infection, arguing that “our nurse had all along been battling ulcers that caused bleeding”.
Mr Bosco Ssendikadiwa, the acting Mubende District health officer, said they planned to start investigating the handling of patients at the clinic.