Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Maureen Kirabo is one of five mother’s who sleeps in Nakawa market with her child. The mother of a four months old baby girl says she had no option but to brave the cold with her child as the government announced lockdowns and banned public transport as a measure to control the spread of coronavirus disease COVID-19.
Kirabo explains that when the markets were closed, she was just coming out of three months of maternity leave and could not afford to stay home after the outbreak of coronavirus disease. Kirabo now spends her days and nights with her child in the market. But she says that her days are easier than the nights.
“During the day, the market is cool. Lucky sleeps well. But at night I am scared for her. If I can feel cold, I wonder what she feels.” To keep her child safe, Kirabo wraps her up in three cotton bedsheets, a head cap, a cotton overall and stockings.
Kirabo is one of many market vendors who have heeded to President Museveni’s directive of sleeping in markets and control person to person movement and spread of the virus. But Paediatricians say that the mothers are exposing their children to a number of health-related complications.
Dr Richard Idro, the president of Uganda Medical Association says sleeping in markets exposes children to malaria that can easily be avoided. According to the ministry of health, around 5,000 people every year succumb to malaria, one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of 5 years. Research shows that mosquitoes are more active in the evenings.
“The moment a mother decides to sleep in a market with her child, the first danger is malaria. Some of the mothers in markets do not have mosquito nets and as such are exposed to mosquitoes. This is a very big danger,” Dr Idro said.
Dr Deogratias Munube, a paediatrician at Mulago National Referral Hospital and also the president of the Uganda Pediatric Association says that while lactating mothers have no option, markets expose children to respiratory infections caused by the cold. According to Dr Munube, children might develop asthma or even pneumonia.
In addition to this, Dr Munube says that some markets like Kalerwe are open construction site that poses danger to children in the form of accidents.
Dr Munube says that while some houses have poor ventilation systems, the side effects of sleeping in the cold outweigh the benefits. He says that in a house, a child is protected from the cold by walls and a roof. In markets, the situation is different.
Instead of sleeping in the cold, Dr Munube recommends the use of tents for such mothers.
On the open market, a modest two-person tent can cost up to 150,000 Shillings or even more. For many market vendors like Kirabo, this can make or break her business. The cost of a tent is the total amount of profits that she earns in three days.
Even before COVID-19, female vendors in markets like Kalerwe had few options on where they could live their children since the market has a no child policy.
Dephase Kiwanuka, the chairman of Bivamuntuuyo Market in Kalerwe says that the market leader has tried advising female vendors from bringing children to the market in vain. Kiwanuka says that as they readmit vendors into the markets, only those without children will be able o access the market.
In such circumstances, Dr Munube recommends the use of warm clothing for children during the night. He says mothers should endeavour to ensure that children are warm enough.