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Uganda’s misguided COVID response

 

Why the utopian dream of a COVID-free Uganda may have become a springboard for private profiteering

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | On June 24 morning I walked into Kikuubo, the epicenter of Uganda’s trade, in Kampala city. I found tens of thousands of people congested on the streets selling merchandise. While Kikuubo is always crowded, this time it was overcrowded; with the street teaming with chaos of traders selling from the street and from their cars, plus hawkers and vendors.

Our government has told us that they are keeping shopping arcades closed in order to avoid congestion. However, three months into the lockdown, during which most traders have not been earning anything to survive, government seems unaware that people are getting desperate. Traders have moved their wares from their shops inside arcades and are now selling from the streets, hence leading to overcrowding.

It was clear to me that government actions are now beginning to produce unintended consequences. As the Kikuubo experience demonstrates, the solution is now worse than the problem.

For instance, whatever the risks are associated with shopping arcades, they are controllable. Government can put in place regulations, as they have done with shopping malls, to ensure that people entering shopping arcades are first sanitised and also temperature tested. This cost would go to the arcade owner and police and Ministry of Health officials can inspect these shopping arcades regularly to ensure compliance.

Secondly, and again as government has done with shopping malls, it can require that every shop in the arcade have a sanitiser and a temperature tester. Again police and Ministry of Health officials can regularly conduct impromptu checks to ensure compliance. What is shocking is that government had not earlier thought of this. The first time the ministers of Trade and KCCA officials went to inspect arcades with a view to do exactly this was Friday June 26.

In the meantime, the desperation of traders has led to a disaster. First, traders are selling their wares on the streets where the government has zero capacity to enforce the Standard Operating Procedures (compliance measures) that it can impose on arcade owners and tenants. Second, the shift to the streets denies government access to revenues since traders must not be paying rent for shops they are not using. So the incomes of arcade owners have been harmed alongside government revenues from rental income.

But the worse risk is of people congesting the streets without facemasks and other controls, which, ironically has increased the risk of contagion, the very risk government is seeking to mitigate. Secondly in keeping arcades locked, government has lost an opportunity to regulate behavior and conduct on the streets. What explains this?

It seems to me that when government ordered the lockdown, its objective was misguided i.e. it sought to control the existence of the virus to zero as a condition for opening up. This was a utopian vision, which even a primary school teacher would have seen as impossible.

8 comments

  1. It’s incompetence plus greed. These are the hallmarks of the NRM regime.

  2. Is Uganda ready to handle corona virus patients

    By Andrew M. Mwenda

    Many Ugandans are wondering about the clinical capacity Uganda has to handle corona virus patients especially those that may need intensive or high dependency care.

    Here is information on the newly refurbished Mulago Hospital alone which I visited last week with my son Bebe Cool and witnessed the great work government has done there: it has 27 state of the art ICU beds for adults, 15 for kids, 2 for organ transplant – 44 beds. The heart institute has 12 and cancer institutes has 10.

    Then the new specialized maternal and neonatal hospital has 25 full equipped ICU beds for adults, 47 for neonatal giving Mulago a total of 138 ICU beds in Mulago alone. Each of these ICU beds has a mechanical ventilator, volumetric pump, a defrebrator, a feeding pump, an infusion pump, a patient warmer and patient monitor.

    In main wards of the refurbished Mulago Hospital, they have 950 beds, each of which can be used as High Dependency Unit (HDU) because each bed has a supply of oxygen, vacuum and medical air. This means each one of them can support a high dependency patient.

    So Mulago alone can handle over 1,000 beds that can support Intensive Care and High Dependency Care. This is just one hospital. There are many other public and private hospitals with ICUs AND HDUs but I do not have their numbers. The ministry of health or that of information should be doing this.

    I know many of you think the country’s healthcare system has fallen apart. This is because President Yoweri Museveni and his NRM government don’t talk about the things they do!

    • All that is good and we appreciate those statistics. But do you actually read and listen to what people are saying, especially the medical fraternity? Masaka Hospital is falling apart; Gulu Hospital is falling apart; Bugiri Hospital is decaying, Iganga Hospital is pathetic; Tororo doesn’t have a hospital to talk about; Moroto Hospital doesn’t have PPEs.Etc,Etc. Look around you before you put praise where it is not due! When you talk about just ONE hospital being able to handle 1000 patients…when the rest of the country has dysfunctionable hospitals, then you had better revisit your analysis. We appreciate what the ministry is doing, but it is just decorating one room in a house of twenty rooms! It has left the rest of the house in total decay! And we won’t talk about all the Health Centers around the country…boy o boy! Some have turned into goat sheds!

      • I might be wrong but I think Samson was not praising Mwenda or MoH’s performance. He was simply pointing out the contradictions in Mwenda’s articles i.e. Mwenda is now criticizing the government it previously praised!

  3. I like the way Samson has put Andrew in a spot light using the same words Andrew wrote about three months ago. It is most likely that Andrew was doing PR that time, so that he could attract attention and partake in sharing covid-19 money. What has happened is that probably he did not get it as he expected which is why he comes up as a totally different person on the same situation and context. Money and moral decay influencing analysis of situation. Very bad.

  4. Saddened Ugandan

    Actually, being able to change from praising to criticizing indicates genuine impartiality and maturity. Which is very refreshing in a country where, when it comes to things of government, those who praise never criticize and those who criticize never praise (generally speaking).

    In any case, the situation and government’s response has changed, as have the opinions of many Ugandans.

    Andrew is keeping his finger on the pulse rather than picking sides. It seems many complainants wish he would permanently position himself and write as either a constant critic or stubborn advocate.

    That’s one reason why I don’t get tired of reading the Independent.

  5. Saddened Ugandan

    Actually, being able to change from praising to criticizing indicates genuine impartiality and maturity. Which is very refreshing in a country where, when it comes to things of government, those who praise never criticize and those who criticize never praise (generally speaking).

    In any case, the situation and government’s response have changed, as have the opinions of many Ugandans. It would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.

    Andrew is keeping his finger on the pulse rather than picking sides. It seems many complainants wish he would permanently position himself and write as either a constant critic or stubborn advocate.

    That’s one reason why I don’t get tired of reading the Independent.

  6. 1.M7 has really spolit Ugandans with love especially with the measures he ha put in place to curb COVID 19;At times i feel we did not deserve all this love from the president.
    2. Covid 19 has been a blessing in disguise to government for example; Ugandans now respect the law,they now know who call the shots.
    3.COVID 19 has exposed capitalism as a quack venture;i mean most companies have been making profits for decades how come they cannot pay their staff salary during this crisis?
    4.Government is right to be more cautious coz of the death rate in the 1st world you never know whether its a biological weapon.

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