Kitgum, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Locals in rural and urban communities in Kitgum district are worried that the outbreak of coronavirus in the country and its resultant negative effects on the economy may see them into abject poverty.
Their fears have been compounded by stringent directives by the government that have since seen a ban on public transport, monthly markets, bars and shops selling non-food items among others. These were some of the measures taken by the government to control the spread of the disease which has so far killed 42,361 people across the world. At least 44 people have so far tested positive for the deadly disease in Uganda.
Samuel Ocira 33, a father of five and resident of Gang Dyang in Pandwong division says that he and his family may become beggars within the town due to lack of income. Ocira says that he had just joined the boda boda business at a time public transport ban was announced.
“…It’s very evident that if the pandemic persists minus any government help, we may be pushed to poverty,” Ocira told Uganda Radio Network in an interview. He observes that the repercussions will be worse for northern Uganda, a region which is still recovering from two decades of war orchestrated by the Lords Resistance Army-LRA.
Helen Okot, a vegetable vendor at Arua park market in the central division says that the outbreak of COVID-19 coupled with government’s stringent directives has hit her business hard.
She says a sack of green vegetables which they used to buy at just 25,000 Shillings from farmers in Agoro sub-county now costs 70,000 Shillings due to transport challenges. Okot says this has also affected her sales because the cost keeps buyers away, yet pieces of essential commodities’ are also on the rise.
Daniel Opiyo, the manager of Lukira Microfinance that offers soft loans to civil servants and businessmen in Kitgum Municipality says the pandemic has greatly affected their business.
Opiyo says that before the ban on public gatherings and public transport was effected, they would give out loans in the range of 50 to 60 million Shillings. However, he adds that the trend has changed and lately they hardly give out loans worth 10 million Shillings.
He says several clients are also unable to pay back their loans at the moment since they are no longer in business citing taxi and boda boda operators and teachers who are currently are home.
Opiyo says they have now decided to give a grace period of one month for all their clients not to service their loan but notes that the decision in the long run might hurt their process of loan recovery and the business as well.
Meanwhile, a number of patients are stranded and unable to return home after being discharged from Kitgum General Hospital. One of those affected is a 33-year-old resident of Okidi Parish in Labongo Amida sub county who requested for anonymity. The patient was discharged two days ago but has not been able to get transport means.
He says even with his discharge letter, motorists have refused to transport him to his home for fear that they may be arrested.
Dr Geoffrey Okello, Kitgum General Hospital Acting Medical Superintendent acknowledges the challenges but notes that they have recently been overwhelmed with the number of people in need of ambulances. He adds that despite available transport means, their challenge is now the fuel required for transporting those discharged and patients.
The government should encourage maximum attention, on the people who are in self quarantine. By allocating for them a place in every district. Where they will be guided by the police which I think will reduce the spread of the disease in country.