The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the European Union (EU) have collaborated to enhance healthcare in Uganda, addressing contagious diseases among Congolese and South Sudanese refugees and surrounding host communities. The program primarily focuses on improving responses to outbreaks, and providing high-quality life-saving primary health and nutrition services in the region. The EU has supported this program with a contribution of nearly 6.8 million euros.

Over the last three years, Uganda's health system has been under increasing strain due to the Covid-19 and Ebola outbreaks, leaving refugee communities from Sudan and Congo particularly vulnerable. Already in March 2020, Uganda temporarily closed its borders in response to Covid-19, forcing refugees to use official or unofficial entry points. By June 2022, an uptick in cases was reported in both Congolese and South Sudanese communities, further burdening the already-stretched health system, which was already grappling with ongoing Rift Valley fever and Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The severity of the situation escalated even further in September 2022, with the declaration of an Ebola outbreak in Uganda. This heightened the urgency to find effective sanitary solutions to contain its spread and protect vulnerable populations, especially the refugees from Sudan and Congo.

During this crisis, women emerged as particularly vulnerable, often taking on the role of caring for infected patients. This exposed them not only to contagion risks but also made them susceptible to sexual violence and harassment. Moreover, many of them had to travel long distances to access basic necessities like water and medical care, further exposing them to additional dangers.

Building on its longstanding presence in Uganda, the IRC launched this new program in May 2021 for a two-year period, with the aim of bolstering preparedness to epidemics and subsequent response, as well as providing high-quality primary health and nutrition services. Priorities of this program included enhancing safe care for suspected patients in communities, improving access to quality comprehensive healthcare services in a safe and dignified manner, and enhancing the use of nutrition services for undernourished children under five and pregnant and lactating women.

Thanks to the support of the European Union, the IRC has been able to expand its impact in the East African region, which has been severely impacted by health, climate, and economic crises. These funds have enabled support for district leadership to monitor the containment of epidemics, train medical staff, boost referral systems, observe diseases, manage waste, and transport samples. Through this program, more than 494,000 individuals have been reached, including 279,000 women and 307,000 children.

Elijah Okeyo, IRC Uganda Country Director, said,

"In an already fragile context in Uganda, the humanitarian response is under immense pressure as refugees fleeing conflicts in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo seek safety and refuge. Covid-19 further strained the healthcare infrastructure, while serious and contagious epidemics continue to affect the population, especially refugee communities. Thanks to the invaluable support from the EU, the IRC has been able to assist almost 500,000  individuals, and provide a robust, proactive, and preventive response to combat epidemics and malnutrition effectively.