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Uganda’s misguided COVID response

Museveni outlines Uganda’s strategy in one of his addresses. 

Uganda is not an island on mars. We have immediate neighbours whose actions we have little or no control over. Besides our neighbors like South Sudan and DRC have weak and absentee states that cannot ensure effective control of the spread of the virus.

Our other neighbours like Tanzania and to an extent Kenya have been lax in their enforcement of measures that limit the spread of the virus. And once we open the borders and airport to passengers, it will become increasingly difficult to stop the entry of the virus into our country. Therefore, a prudent policy on the lockdown was not to see the lockdown as a solution but as a stopgap measure to build state capacity to control the spread of the virus, knowing that we cannot completely eliminate it from our midst. Hence the objective should be how to live with it while limiting its ability to spread rapidly and widely across the country, and how to ensure treatment for those who contract the disease.

I had always thought that this was the vision of the government of Uganda. I thought they would use lockdown to build the state capacity for monitoring, testing and contact tracing of people who test positive. This would give them capacity to isolate the infected and quarantine them. The second aim would have been to build a highly robust administrative machine to ensure enforcement of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the management of public transport, public buildings, shopping malls and arcades, markets, concerts, churches etc. Finally I had thought that government would use the lockdown to build the capacity of public medical facilities to handle COVID patients in both mild and critical conditions.

The President ordered the lockdown on March 30; that is over three months ago, almost 100 days end of this week. Yet, we hear that it is now that government is trying to put in place SOPs for the management these public facilities. In fact government has no plan yet on how to open boda bodas for business, yet this is a sector that employs over one million Ugandans who live hand to mouth. Given that an average household in Uganda has five persons, it means the livelihoods of more than five million people are at stake, without any income, if boda bodas are not opened for passenger business.

Finally to build a capacity of 1,200 intensive care unit beds in Uganda required less than $10m (Shs 37 billion) for ventilators, $5m (Shs 18.5 billion) for monitors, and a little over one million dollars for oxygen plants. If one adds about $3m (Shs 10 billion) for protective medical equipment for our health professionals, it is clear that a lot would have been achieved. Instead huge resources have been poured into the wrong places in pursuit of unachievable aims and goals. Vital time has been lost in this utopian dream of a COVID-free Uganda. Why have we failed to think? Or have we?

It is very possible there is a lot of incompetence and poor internal coordination of things inside government. This creates a toxic combination that explains some of the failures we see. But it is also possible that some people may be turning this into an opportunity to make money, the larger the scare the larger would be their budgets and roles. If this profiteering is done by powerful forces inside the state, then we can be sure that COVID will not be defeated. Instead COVID may have become a continuous springboard for private profiteering.

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amwenda@independent.co.ug

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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