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Uganda’s COVID overreaction

How copying and pasting Western solutions to the pandemic was unrealistic for Uganda and Africa

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | When COVID-19 struck, the world held its breath. In early 2020, there were doomsday predictions that the pandemic would devastate Africa, given the continent’s poverty leading to poor healthcare services. Yet more than a year since the pandemic, Africa is the least affected continent. Ironically, the most affected country in Africa with 1.5 million infections is South Africa. It is also the most developed and industrialised economy on the continent.  Meanwhile the poorest countries of Africa such as Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi, Liberia, Malawi, Niger, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone etc. have been least affected. Why?

Of course the poorest countries have the least testing capabilities – so their low infection rates may just be a reflection of that. Yet if infection rates were high in those countries, and if infections caused severe symptoms leading to mass sickness and death as we see in USA and Europe, governments would not be able to hide such information. This is especially so in this age of smart phones and social media. Besides, there is a huge army of save-Africa-from-itself do gooders in the West and their cheerleaders on our continent who would seize this opportunity to paint themselves our saviors.

Let us not forget that each time there has been a pandemic like Ebola, a war, a natural calamity or famine leading to mass deaths in an African country or countries, the cameras of the world have turned on us. The absence of these mass infections and deaths in Africa and their accompanying cameras does not tell us how great our public healthcare systems have been. That is the mistake some analysts have made. Rather they tell us a lot about how COVID spreads and affects different demographic segments of the society. These dynamics help us understand why the virus has been devastating to largely rich countries compared to poor ones, and how the response in poor countries has been shaped by the risks in rich countries not their own context.

What has actually saved most of Africa is our poverty, which makes our people live in very unhealthy physical environments, without proper healthcare systems (well-trained medical workers plus accessible and well equipped hospitals). As a result many Africans die before their first or fifth birthday. To survive the vagaries of our environment (sanitation and hygiene) requires someone to have a strong immune system. Those are the people who live in Africa. When COVID enters their bodies, it hits on a brick wall, hence not the low infection rates but the low symptomatic rates.

If the virus spreads as we have been told it does, there is no way Ugandans who trade in down town Kampala markets such as Owino, Kikuubo, Nakasero, etc. could have avoid mass infection. And if the virus were the lethal killer that we see it is in the USA and Europe, large sections of the Ugandan urban poor would be coughing and sneezing themselves to death. The fact that we have no social distancing, no use of masks and no sanitising in downtown markets only tells us that its spread levels are slow and low, and where it spreads people are largely asymptomatic.

Another lesson even from the rich countries of Europe and North America is that COVID tends to be lethal to people in old age and/or who have preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer etc. These are lifestyle diseases that are not common in our poor countries. In any case, the majority of people in our poor countries who get these diseases die early because of lack of effective medical care. So most Africans in rural Africa are healthy human beings with very strong immune systems.

8 comments

  1. Andrew. You can really contradict yourself! I get a feeling that sometimes you don’t take time to reflect on your arguments, but if you do, then goes that some of your arguments are motivated to achieve a certain purpose rather than being objective. For example, In just less than two months ago, you justified Museveni’s high-handed way of handling Bobi Wine and also banning campaigns in some districts. Reason? You presented Covid-19 as the death sentence in uganda. That the way it spreads, kills etc, your line of thinking about it is different today! You have so many of such contributions in your analysis, which makes some of us wonder why? Other than that, I agree with your analysis article. I add the factor of weather to the reasons: There is a strong correlation between cold conditions and the spread of covid. In the west the spread in winter was different from summer. Tropical African countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda etc have recorded higher rates of infection & death mostly during cold conditions.

  2. And the Theme?
    you are able to work out several reasons for the outcome because some individuals who know about
    contagion did the needful
    a name was given, the ability to survive and mode of spread
    From the risk assessment measures were put in place (transmission based measures)
    naturally our dear ones who could not effectively defend themselves have left us

    The overreaction was only when individuals died from activities of enforcement as opposed to the virus; i wish you could analyse these unfortunate incidents

    You could also analyse the level of unpreparedness for those whose illness necessitated hospitalization

    Needless to mention the failure to achieve the desirable compliance

    well we hope you have already received the inoculation, the one other citizens are anxiously waiting for; they may not be as strong as you imagine, remember most are malnourished

  3. So Uganda’s reaction to COVID can be described as FOMO. We watched people on other continents taking precautions and we jumped on the bandwagon.

    • Please for a change let us not take people for granted

      it was necessary to take precautions:
      1 for every outbreak the assumption is that there is something new with the bug, that has enabled it defeat so many of the infected to die in numbers bigger than the usual

      2. For every infection individuals fight with first line measures, then secondary measures, the out come can be no disease, disease and recover or disease and die

      The contagion was known by name (one internationally given) and so was its behavior, the measures to control it had to be similar

      A Nigerian voice was heard saying “COVID go away your name is not known here and so is the way to destroy you” did Ugandans have an alternative?

      For a country with minimal facilities, it was in order to prevent as many people as possible from coming into contact with an invader, because the outcome was not known

      Please note that those who are affected report to hospital and find it full, the situation could have been worse if no attempt was made to put in place measures to stop transmission of an invader that enters the body through breathing, moth and eyes (just like measles)

      Have you attempted to establish the cause of death for all who die outside hospital or in facilities where the diagnosis is not clear?

      just talk to individuals upcountry, the number of burials may have risen

      We have got several benefits from the attempt, Ugandans now wash their hands, A number wear masks. Some have learnt to avoid unnecessary movements and gatherings

      We are actually worried about the effect of children going back to school

      The other issue is that one had to be a person that most people believe in, to deliver the message; some listened in protest but still the message was delivered

      I however still believe that involvement of the village team at an early stage would have delivered sustained compliance

      Now that the bug is changing faster than a chameleon, let us not be complacent, each of us is in charge of their lives, the problem some still visit people who have chosen to isolate themselves
      If you cannot avoid this , start announcing your presence from a distance so that the vulnerable enhance their protection

      Let some of these claims (possible decoy) not be an excuse to limit inoculation of persons

  4. Now that elections are over in Uganda, no fear of Bobbi Wine mass rallies we can open up again. Covid19 is not bad after all despite killing a few members of my immediate family last month.

    • Covid-19 is a result of infection due to a virus SAS-CoV-2

      It kills those not able to defend themselves

      it spreads by aerosol and contact if the part of the body that is contaminated with virus touches soft

      parts (mucous membranes of eye , nose and mouth)

      It cannot be good

      Let us separate politics from health related issues

      many people have lost dear ones and we need to keep reminding people to observe control measures

      using an approach that will make them accept the practice (and force cannot be part of this; that is

      why people who had latrines in the 60s and 70s, abandoned them when the enforcement

      disappeared)

      If you have ever had a handshake [or shared a pen] and the next thing you do is to run looking for

      soap and water, then you will understand what it means to relate with poor/no hand washing/hygiene

      (no apologies on that point)

      To ease or not to ease is a responsibility of those monitoring transmission of the virus

      people are enjoying themselves while observing SOPs

  5. Hm

    Thank you for preparing us for the guessing act(in relation to COVID-19 response) so it will have to be this way,

    say some thing today, make old citizens who have served for so long wait in vain, then change plan

    ” I will consider dear to me he who…”

    Not surprised that now you introduce a story of six years ago with another phantasy

    Some old eyes see through these schemes

  6. Well in a way one reflects on events and comes to appreciate the effort of dedicated personnel

    as I waited to get a service at a private not for profit facility of good repute, i observed the calm among the

    senior citizens

    The health care workers were slow but sure, they respected clients, and administered the jab

    I then realized this was indeed an accredited site despite the humble setting

    I pray that all the clients fair well to report for the second dose of the vaccine

    This is a consolation after going through so much psychological trauma this year!

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