A report here by a field engaged stakeholder about the challenges Uganda currently faces regarding the feasibility of interventions to curb nationwide Covid-19 spread
By Gertrude Masembe*
Interventions to Curb Covid-19 Spread in a Low-Income Country
Covid-19 commonly known as Coronavirus disease was declared a pandemic by World Health organization in March 2020 after its devastating effects in Wuhan China where it is believed to have started. The disease-spread continued rising with escalating numbers and currently stands at 462,684 with over 20,834 recorded deaths according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Database (25th March, 2020). Italy, Spain and China are the worst hit with African countries trailing behind.
Uganda had remained virgin to this pandemic until the 21st of March when a first case tested positive, a traveller coming from Dubai. Three days later, the cases increased to eight and subsequently to 14 by 25th March 2020 (Presidential address, March 2020). Cases so far confirmed include an eight-month old baby from a rural district. This has set in motion panic among the population culminating into a presidential address with a directive to close all schools, institutions of learning, places of worship, places of entertainment and banning public transport except for goods as these were deemed, to be hot spots for further spread. Additionally, the airport and all borders were closed to prevent inflow of people into the country since all neighboring countries had already registered Covid-19 cases. Masses were advised to observe social distancing leading to banning of any meetings of more than 10 people but this is far from being achieved. A local leader in the city suburb, during an interview on 24th March 2020 mentioned that he was hearing about social distancing rule for the very first time which is worrying because he is supposed to be a conduit of information within his community. The people have also been advised to wash hands with soap, stay home and where possible use masks but unfortunately masks readily available and sold by vendors have been confirmed to be ineffective. A number of avenues including televisions, radios and social media channels like WhatsApp and Facebook are also being used as mediums of information dissemination for preventive measures but sadly most of the messages and updates are relayed in English leaving out many with no grasp of this language.
The ministry has availed hotlines to ensure quick response in case of either identified or suspected cases though some delays have been cited in a few cases as reported by the masses and members of parliament over the radio and TV telecast. The President has remained committed to this cause, held two additional presidential addresses to update the masses about the Covid-19 situation and further given clarifications regarding preventive measures as recommended by WHO. It is also important to note that shopping centers, pharmacies and the transport industry have heeded the president’s directive and are now implementing guidelines by putting in place hand washing places with soap and sanitizers.
Despite all the above initiatives many areas are still grappling with solutions to this pandemic as panic and stigma builds up for those suspected to have been on the flight from Dubai carrying Uganda’s first Covid-19 victim. During a parliamentary session discussing issues related with Covid-19 on 24th March 2020, members cited long distances to isolation centers as an impediment to combating this pandemic. One fishing community for example has a facility that is 20kilometers away from nearest health center while another community is 185Kilometers away from isolation center.
On the other hand, a few facilities are reported to be lacking protective gear as communicated during parliamentary session on 25th March 2020, making response to emergency cases challenging. The slow response by Ministry of Health (MOH) for cases has been noted which could promote community spread.
How much time should be allowed before a directive takes effect? For example, in the case of transportation of goods between countries by road, the directive to close borders came into effect when trucks were in transit and some drivers and their travelling parties were stuck within communities near border points. This calls for harmonized planning between both countries.
To the common person I should say, the pandemic has come with its challenges due to price inflation for imported consumables. The masses are also into panic-shopping forcing prices to respond to the law of supply and demand. Though hiking prices of items seems to be an inhumane action, this situation is inevitable as vendors rush to cash in on the available opportunity. The local goods have also had their prices doubled when there seems to be no shortage.
As observed, many efforts have been put across but anticipated goals will only be realized if the population fully rallies behind their President to combat the pandemic. Social distancing which is key is not yet being adhered in the case of slum areas while hand washing in the transport industry seems to be a habit in only loading centers in major towns. Personally during my taxi ride from the city suburb where loading was being done, there was neither a sanitizer available nor a washing facility for the passengers and this leaves me wondering if people are truly committed to fighting this war!. However, we have faith that our Health Ministry together with health workers will do whatever it takes to combat this virus given their experience with previous pandemics and hopefully the masses will unite and collectively work to support these efforts by giving hundred percent commitment to observing WHO guidelines and MOH Standards of Procedure.
* Gertrude Masembe is an executive leader with proven management background; effective problem-solving skills with demonstrated ability to work in rapidly changing environments. She has demonstrated expertise in strategic planning, organizational development, project management and business intelligence across diverse spaces in the development sector. She attended Makerere University and specialized in Social Sector Planning and Management. Her passion is community development which cuts across various sectors like health, education and economic empowerment