How lies, fatigue are derailing Uganda’s fight against pandemic
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Ugandans no longer fear the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and that is very dangerous. Government officials in charge of fighting the spread of the disease are increasingly getting under pressure including from fake news.
When Betty Amongi; the Minister for Kampala, recently announced the instant closure of several Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) offices at City Hall following the announcement that four staff had tested positive for COVID-19, the city Lord Mayor, Erias Lukwago, refused to go into self isolation.
Lukwago insisted the minister should instead devise means for operations to continue at City Hall while minding the health of staff.
Days earlier, Dr. Diana Atwine; the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health had come out to extinguish rumours fueled by Muhammad Nsereko, the Kampala Central MP, who released a video allegedly showing how the ongoing testing exercise for COVID-19 had turned into a business.
Nsereko had alleged that “the Ministry of Health is using the Rapid Diagnostic Kits (RDTs) purchased at a cost of US$65 hence causing financial loss of billions of shillings as opposed to the exact price of US$ 3.3 on the open market.”
Nsereko also claimed that the “Ministry of Health tests 3000 truck drivers daily on entry and exit from the country making a financial gain of US$ 195,000 per day.” Nsereko added that because of the cost of inflation, the responsible party (the health ministry) is minting US$ 19 million every 100 days.
Nsereko further said when the government resumes operations of Entebbe Airport; all passengers will be subjected to pay for COVID-19 tests. He also made an assumption that if 2000 passengers arrive daily, the entity will earn US$ 13 million in 100 days therefore making an extra Shs50 billion.
However, Dr. Atwine said Nsereko had misled the public. She said for a health worker to take samples from a person, it is mandatory that he is fully donned in personal protective wear or PPE. This PPE is used once and disposed off after every individual test.
“If this is a requirement per testing, the cost per every test carried out must be taken into consideration. The PCR tests (which the health ministry uses) cannot be carried out excluding requirements such as sample collection, transportation media and triple packaging which cost US$ 36 per person,” Dr. Atwine explained in a lengthy statement posted on the ministry’s social media accounts.
Atwine also clarified that truck drivers are tested on arrival in Uganda from neighbouring countries. All truck drivers employed in Uganda are tested in country as per the protocol and agreement made by the six East African member states. She noted that without testing drivers coming into the country, the epidemic would have taken a different turn altogether for Uganda by now.
Atwine added that all testing is done free of charge at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, the Central Public Health Laboratory and Makerere University College of Health Sciences’ Immunology Laboratory.