Entebbe, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The prolonged closure of Entebbe Regional Referral Hospital has irked residents. The hospital closed the outpatient, dental, optical, maternal and child care departments in March last year to focus on the management of COVID-19 patients.
Before its closure, the hospital served more than a million people from within Entebbe municipality, Katabi Town council, Buvuma and Kalangala districts. With a capacity of 200 beds, the hospital was re-opened mid-year.
However, management closed the hospital less than a month later, when the country started battling the second wave of COVID-19 with an average of 1,000 cases daily. Now that the country has been recording less than 300 cases daily since September. Some residents want the ministry of health to re-open the inpatient and outpatient wards.
On average, residents say they spend Shillings 5,000 to test for common illnesses such as malaria, typhoid and Infections at private clinics. They spend over Shillings 50,000 to treat these illnesses yet tests and drugs for these illnesses are free in public facilities like Entebbe Hospital.
James Ajuma, a resident of Katabi-Namate village, says that Entebbe Hospital is located in the centre of the municipality, which makes it accessible for residents who can walk or can’t hire cars or motorcycles to go to health center IIIs in Katabi-Busambaga and Kigungu village. Taxis do not operate in either place.
Ajuma says that as residents they are unhappy and would have expressed their anger by holding protests but fear the heavy presence of security personnel and installations such as Kigungu, Bugonga and Nakiwogo military barracks. There is heightened security in Entebbe because it hosts the State House, the international airport, several government ministries and the UN regional service center among others.
Dr. Diana Atwine, the Health Ministry Permanent Secretary has asked the public to be patient, saying that Entebbe Hospital is a national management center for COVID-19 cases. She explains that they selected the hospital because it is located less than 5 kilometres from Entebbe International Airport that handles an average of 1,400 incoming passengers.
She says the hospital is expected to handle all travellers who test positive. The hospital also receives COVID-19 patients from within the community and the rest of the country. Atwine says that the ministry cannot re-open Entebbe hospital at the time the country and the rest of the world is stepping up measures to contain the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The country commenced mandatory COVID-19 testing for all incoming passengers on October 28 at Entebbe Airport to curb the importation of COVID-19 variants. So far, 228 out of the nearly 48,000 travellers tested turned out positive, translating into a daily average of six cases. Atwine says that much as Entebbe hospital has few patients, it will remain closed to the public.
Atwine explains further that the hospital will only resume full operations at the completion of the renovation works and installation of ICU beds, an incinerator and a washing machine at the Entebbe National Isolation Centre. The centre will accommodate 100 patients.
Muhammad Mubiru, the Principal Administrator of Entebbe Hospital, agrees, saying a washing machine is yet to be installed at the isolation centre for effective infection prevention and control. The construction of staff housing units is still ongoing. The housing units are next to the isolation centre. The housing unit is expected to host the ten medical workers who will operate the High Dependency and Intensive Care Units.
Mubiru says management is currently preparing to re-open the hospital because the works at the isolation centre and staff housing units may be completed within a month’s time. He says that the 450 staff including those who have been managing COVID-19 patients and deployed in the health centre IVs and IIIs in Katabi, Kalangala and elsewhere are ready to serve the public.
Mubiru however says the health ministry needs to fix the referral system so that Entebbe hospital will only offer specialized services and not act as the first point of reference for the community. Upgraded to a regional referral hospital in July 2019, Entebbe hospital is expected to serve 3.5 million people in Entebbe Municipality and Wakiso, Mpigi, Butambala, Kalangala and Buvuma districts.