By Justin Ojangole
Like the rest of the world, Uganda is going through a very trying time as the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads. We have no idea how this will end or how many of us will be infected. It is like the Armageddon has come upon Uganda and the rest of the world; like the end time is here.
With confirmed cases rising, we could be facing the most difficult time in the history of our nation. The Government has, rightly, announced restrictions on movements, quarantine people who recently entered the country as a means to contain the virus.
President Yoweri Museveni is leading this fight. His addresses re-assure a weary nation. He has demonstrated great leadership at a time when the ship needs a steady captain.
As Uganda takes steps to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience from Wuhan City in China - where it was first discovered - can help.
I visited Wuhan in 2018 as part of a media delegation to China at the invitation of the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda, Zheng Zhuqiang. We travelled from Beijing to Wuhan by high speed train, which cut the 1,150 km journey down to just five and half hours. Then we drove down by bus. A city of about 11 million people, Wuhan has a GDP of $180b.
Wuhan is the capital city of Hubei province. Like many Chinese cities, it is a showpiece of beauty and development. The city is a political, economic, financial, cultural, transportation and educational centre of the province. City dwellers live in a modern environment, enjoying the benefits of development.
Nobody knows why, but Wuhan is where experts first identified a strange, high contagious illness more than three months ago. In no time, the number of cases in Wuhan reached tens of thousands. To prevent COVID-19 from spreading outward, the city was shutdown.
Last week, Wuhan city re-opened as cases of coronavirus dropped. For now, people can only move around their neighbourhoods - much needed relief after spending over two months locked indoors. So, just how did China manage to control and bring down the spread of the virus in Wuhan within three or so months?
Over the years, I have learnt one attribute about Chinese people - discipline. When necessary, the city could be put under lockdown. People were told to stay home. Transport to and from Wuhan, including the bullet train to Beijing, was stopped.
All public institutions, schools, offices and factories were shut down. Private and public vehicles were banned in the city. Security checkpoints were mounted and a 24-hour patrol instituted to make sure people obeyed the lockdown. Immediately, the culture of discipline kicked in and people decided to stay home.
To provide basic services, selected providers of essential services were allowed to operate including those that could arrange home deliveries of food and other essentials. Meanwhile, over 300 medical teams with over 42,000 medical workers were deployed from other provinces to Hubei to back up local medical teams.
As the teams set up camp, fever screening clinics were established in different parts of Wuhan and other cities of Hubei. The key role of these fever clinics was to screen patients with fever, diagnose COVID-19 patients and quickly isolate them from other people.
New specialised COVID-19 hospitals were quickly built in a matter of days and experienced medical personnel such as respiratory, emergency and infectious disease physicians were assigned to handle.
To boost the health system, China immediately started re-training and equipping all medical personnel to handle coronavirus. Personal protection equipment were provided and facilities to handle emergencies were availed. Infection control experts monitored and supervised other medical staff to make sure they did not get infected, especially when working in isolation wards.
In Wuhan, online free medical consultations were availed to all residents. Over 12,000 medical workers were deployed to conduct free online consultations, initial screening and mass sensitisation of the population.
This week, people are still encouraged to wear masks and to quickly seek medical attention, if they feel unwell. Medical personnel in full protective gear and volunteers are deployed at public places like train stations to hand out disinfectant and monitor the situation. Some carry signs reminding people to wear masks and protect themselves.
The key lesson here was that the best way to fight coronavirus is through an effort by experts, support staff, ordinary people and leaders. That is why Chinese President Xi and dozens of Heads of State are working together to fight coronavirus. Even at local levels, leaders would at every opportunity educate people about the new illness and encourage them to obey Government guidelines.
Another important lesson is to avoid stigmatising illness. Some people, like President Trump, have called this illness the ‘Chinese virus'. Apart from the fact that virus was identified in Wuhan, there is nothing ‘Chinese' about it.
The world has fought deadly viruses before: the H1N1 influenza pandemic which was discovered in the US in 2009, the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome started in the US in 1993, Marburg was identified in Germany in 1967 and Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976, plus others. In each of these cases, the world learnt not to stigmatise people from the countries where the illness outbroke, as specified by the code of naming by World Health Organisation.
In such times, the critical thing is for all of us to come together and fight this virus. We should all join the call by President Museveni for Ugandans to stay at home, wash hands frequently, avoid going to crowded places, and do a good job of self-protection.
The writer is the publisher of China-Uganda Magazine and executivemMember of China - Africa Friendship Association