By Christopher Krafft
COVID-19 made its appearance on the world stage quickly, quietly, and with little warning. All countries—rich, poor, and middle-income -- were caught off guard and have struggled to contain the outbreak and save lives.
It was impossible for any donor or country with any amount of money to mobilize in time to prepare for this outbreak.
Fortunately, Uganda and the United States have been working together for decades to respond to infectious disease outbreaks. As partners, we have already successfully slowed the spread of HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and other diseases within Uganda's borders and beyond.
As the Ugandan government looks to minimize new COVID-19 cases, we stand by the Ugandan people. I pledge to you that COVID-19 is neither the first nor the last threat we will face together as partners.
We are committed to assisting the exceptional team led by Minister Aceng at the Ministry of Health to prevent, detect, and respond to this pandemic. The U.S. government has a strong and enduring relationship with the Ministry of Health that is built upon outbreak control and response.
This relationship is crucial; during a pandemic, the more partnerships that exist around the world, the better the data flows and the faster everyone can react in a unified response.
Together, we will continue to save lives.
U.S. government disease experts are in daily contact with the Ministry of Health to provide support to the COVID-19 response National Task Force. The U.S. government is continuing large-scale support for disease surveillance, field epidemiology response, incident management, emergency operations, and data systems. To highlight just one of many recent examples of this assistance, the United States previously provided to the UPDF a mobile hospital that has the ability to transport, isolate, and treat COVID-19 patients; recently the UPDF deployed this hospital to Bombo.
Thanks to billions of dollars in U.S. investments in Uganda over the years, when the country's borders closed we did not have to figure out how to bring in lab equipment or experts to train laboratory technicians - they were ready and waiting to act as soon as the test kits were available. The Ugandan government did not have to scramble to set up an emergency operations center - it was already in place and managing six simultaneous outbreaks, with U.S. government support, at the time that COVID-19 arrived. The Ugandan government did not have to train field epidemiologists - they were already trained and able to respond immediately. We did not have to figure out how to collect and transport samples from the farthest reaches of the country because the lab sample transport network and lab hubs were already fully functional with U.S. government support.
Uganda's leaders have taken bold steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by implementing strict, temporary restrictions on movement. Despite the discomforts and inconveniences, we must stay home as much as possible, wash our hands often, avoid touching our faces, and keep the necessary two-meter minimum physical distance from others when we have to leave our homes.
If you begin to show symptoms, immediately contact the Ministry of Health, toll-free, at 919 to be screened and tested. If you suspect you have been exposed, isolate from others, and monitor symptoms. Wear a homemade cloth mask to prevent others from getting sick even before you begin to show symptoms.
We also must help each other sustain our general well-being and mental health. We can do that by staying positive, taking a deep breath before we lose our patience, acknowledging each other's anxieties and hardships, and reaching out to friends and family by phone or text to let them know we are thinking of them and that we are in this together.
The U.S. government will continue working hand in hand with Uganda to respond to this outbreak. In addition, through our Facebook and Twitter pages, we will provide thoughtful ways to keep your children engaged, ideas for practicing self-care and good mental health, opportunities to get creative and innovative, tips and best practices for prevention, the most up-to-date information about COVID-19, and a platform to reach out with anything that might be on your mind.
We are in this together, and we will overcome this disease. Together, we continue to save lives. Stay safe, stay home, and wash your hands!
The writer is the U.S. Mission Uganda Chargé d'Affaires