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Uganda's academics call for research in fight against COVID-19

By Lillian Namusoke Magezi

Added 22nd July 2020 09:47 PM

Uganda's academics call for research in fight against COVID-19

COVID19 |PANDEMIC| RESEARCH

Members of the academia have called for regional cooperation in the fight against COVID-19.

The call was based on the issue of cross-border truck drivers who have contributed a considerable percentage to Uganda's 1,065 registered cases of COVID-19. Prof. Lawrence Mugisha, an associate professor in veterinary medicine, animal resources and bio-security at Makerere University, noted that there is need for countries to collaborate in terms of designing their responses and surveillance.

Mugisha, who is also a member of the Presidential Scientific Committee on Epidemics, elaborated that the countries could achieve collaboration through sharing information and resources in addition to training their human resources to handle the global pandemic that is crossing borders.

He made the remarks during a virtual seminar organized by the Knowledge Management and Evidence Response Unit (KERU) at the Makerere University School of Public Health (MUSPH). The two-hour seminar, which attracted over 70 participants from the academia, the Government and civil society was held under the theme ‘The role of evidence in building health system resilience in the COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 Uganda'.

Expounding on the theme, Prof. Freddie Ssengooba from the department of health policy, planning and management at MUSPH highlighted the importance of evidence in making meaning out of a situation to help us design practices that will make us function as a society.

Ssengooba, who is working closely with the National Task Force on COVID-19, noted that since we are dealing with a new disease, there is little historical evidence we can base on to make decisions and so, every country is struggling. Therefore, in looking for solutions, Ssengooba said it is advisable that Uganda considers what other countries have done.

However, he highlighted the fact that there was need for us to understand that not all evidence will apply to our context because there are structural limitations and, therefore, whatever evidence is ‘borrowed' should be customized to fit our setting so as to get applicable interventions.

"Uganda being a Third World Country, our health systems are more vulnerable and people take time to understand complex information, so when we borrow lessons from other countries, we should customize it for our context and also be patient as we wait for things to work out because it takes time to build capacity," Ssengooba emphasized.

On the other hand, Dr. Roy William Mayega, the coordinator of the Makerere Research and Innovation Fund (Mak-RIF) and a senior lecturer in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics noted that COVID-19 brought about a paradigm shift in the use of evidence.

Mayega explained that since it was a new disease, the evidence used in the response was generated as we went along with dealing with the situation. He added that a lot of evidence is still needed in Uganda and therefore, he called on stakeholders to promote research and innovation and mobilise resources for them.

According to Mayega, key issues that the evidence need to address include misinformation among members of the public, how to handle large numbers of patients, treatment for COVID-19, socio-economic effects of the lockdown and the complacency that people have developed towards the disease.

Recommendations

Several recommendations came out of the deliberations and these included the following:

  • There is need for a holistic approach to the fight against COVID-19 because all sectors have been affected by the impact of the disease and the interventions such as lockdowns that have led to economic hardships and affected people's livelihoods. The disease is not only an issue of the health sector but the entire system that affects the wellbeing of the country. In addition, emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases (diseases linked to animals) need a multi-sectoral approach (one-health approach). For example, the lockdown made it necessary for food to be distributed which made it more than a health issue, but it extended into agriculture, trade and transport. This calls for proper allocation of funds to all the necessary sectors.
  • Uganda needs to build a robust and holistic health system with well trained and motivated human resources. There is need for continuous professional development because diseases are new, they present in different ways and therefore, health workers need continuous training to be able to handle cases. There is also need for proper infrastructure to provide required services and meet patient needs.
  • There should be continuous engagement of all key stakeholders such as researchers, policy makers, communities and implementers. Research should be linked to communities so as to come up with the necessary Human-centred interventions, work Work with communities while developing and implementing solutions so that they embrace them Human centred interventions, work with communities to see what is sustainable with communities interventions such as behavioural change and positive communication.
  • Those involved in the response should harness ICT platforms and generally technology to analyze the available data and develop solutions. For example, medical records should be made electronic or mobile phones should be used in contact tracing and medical workers should adopt telemedicine and new approaches to procedures that can be undertaken within our hospitals. Technology should also be used for timely dissemination of information. Adopt new technology, including
  • There is need for more research to generate evidence in addition to a need to mobilise more local funding for research so as to reduce dependence on external funders. Therefore, the Government and private practitioners are called on to fund research into innovations.
  • Researchers should also endeavor to have their evidence disseminated so that it can inform policy. They should use media (including social media), which are an important source of information to the general public, they should publish the research in accessible journals in addition to packaging it well for policy makers, for example in policy briefs.
  • Noting that the virus keeps on changing its impact, participants urged those concerned to deal with the emerging issues from the COVID-19 response plan, such as domestic violence that has been exacerbated by the lockdown.

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