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COVID-19: Why Uganda should move from containment to adaptation

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Added 23rd May 2020 03:47 PM

COVID-19 is a “blessing in disguise” to Uganda. The pandemic has highlighted our human values. Everyone has been trying to share the little they have. After all, “life comes first” and all lives matter.

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Dr Ekwaro A Obuku

COVID-19 is a “blessing in disguise” to Uganda. The pandemic has highlighted our human values. Everyone has been trying to share the little they have. After all, “life comes first” and all lives matter.

By Dr. Ekwaro Obuku

For how long are we going to live in terror of COVID-19? Ugandans led by President Yoweri Museveni ought to adapt to this new disease. The quick take-home lesson is reinforcing our social security infrastructure; first we must secure our food basket, health, and education systems.

COVID-19 is the “Third World War”. In 1941, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor during World War III killing 2,000 Americans. The COVID-19 death toll is 40 times more with over 90,000 Americans dead so far. Yet triumphant countries in this COVID-19 war like Uganda never fired a single nuclear weapon.

What would be wrong with a 15% national budget allocation, ring-fenced, and “classified” for Uganda’s health sector, in line with the 2000 Abuja Declaration? What more evidence do we need to justify our defence against dangerous pathogens as the next generation frontiers?

French scientists recently traced COVID-19 among patients who died from pneumonia-like illnesses in December 2019 in Paris. In Uganda, several revellers from Dubai during the 2019 Christmas season recall returning with “a very serious flu”. This retrospective evidence suggests the novel coronavirus may have spread globally earlier than estimated.

Uganda’s COVID-19 national response was an attempt to contain its further spread. Museveni shut Uganda’s borders and airspace by March 22. He also put in place other measures such as the closure of schools, churches, weekly markets, a ban on public and private transport, an evening curfew, among others. However, facing the future, are these measures sustainable, how do we move forward as a country?

Our nutrition and body immunity are inseparable. Where are our national grain silos? Why are livestock farmers in Nakaseke district pouring milk during this lockdown? In order to mitigate the policy problems of containing COVID-19, a national food distribution plan was set up and it became problematic. Perhaps it is the reason containment measures were unbearable for some people, especially the community quarantine. A hungry man is an angry man.

COVID-19 is a “blessing in disguise” to Uganda. The pandemic has highlighted our human values. Everyone has been trying to share the little they have. After all, “life comes first” and all lives matter.

Even the President who mooted importing Cuban doctors two years earlier during the 2017 “doctors strike”, was all praises for his Ugandan army of healthcare professionals that, “…we should pay them better…”

However, what are our national priorities? Although COVID-19 is yet to claim a death in Uganda; beneath the still river waters lurk crocodiles. Our Parliament crowned the COVID-19 response with sh300b. 

Incidentally, by April 2018 about sh360b was required for mass action against malaria (Malaria Fund) to spray all districts in Uganda. This local funding has never come. Yet, malaria caused half a million hospital admissions and killed 4,500 Ugandans according to the health ministry 2018/19 annual performance report.

Likewise, if we invested in resilient national ambulance systems for the real killers: maternal deaths or road traffic accidents, would we not be more prepared for COVID-19? These ambulances would transport pregnant mothers before, during, and after a lockdown.

The writer is a member of Uganda Medical Association

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