By Edward Kafufu Baliddawa
Many people have already written very brilliant articles giving their thoughts and perspectives about the Coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the country and other parts of the world.
Some have tried to offer realistic solutions as to how the pandemic ought to be managed while others have simply stopped at pointing out the weaknesses and deficiencies exhibited in the management of the pandemic.
We continue to read and hear of scaring reports of predictions of even a more lethal Covid-19 Delta Plus variant manifesting in most of the African countries including Uganda in the very near future.
Now, this reality must be scaring for the ordinary wananchi and equally troubling to the managers of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
Nevertheless, government must be applauded for the efforts that have so far been undertaken to fight and minimize both the infections and deaths as a result of the virus in both the first and this ongoing second wave.
There are better and improved interventions that are being done by the scientists, health workers and various Covid-19 Task Forces countrywide that are a result of the lessons learnt in the first wave.
Most of the wananchi have become more aware and vigilant in observing the SOPs and hence undoubtedly a lot of lives are being saved in the process. This must be commended and more is encouraged to be done. The fight is not over yet. May be it is even just beginning!
However, obviously there are things that could have been done differently and possibly better. It is becoming more evident that if we had planned better and had prepared better, this second wave might not have impacted as much human damage as it has already done in just these two months.
This fact was exemplified by Dr. Joseph Muvawala the executive director of the National Planning Authority in his statement at the Media Center when he said: “As planners of Government we should take responsibility for the deaths of many Ugandans… We knew about the second wave and knew exactly what to do like putting in place more ICU beds and oxygen, but what did we do? I apologise as executive director of the National Planning Authority. Although the resources could have not been stolen, did government departments use it well? We should learn to take blame and change the way we do things. We promise that even if were not included on the National Task Force as planners, we shall push ourselves in there to change things.”
With hindsight and with the desperate outcries of the wananchi going on throughout the country, it is hoped that this time round the third wave will find us a little better prepared.
What the country has faced is for sure something we had never envisaged or even prepared for.
Our health system had never been prepared for this kind of pandemic onslaught and therefore even the response or mitigation measures of the Ministry of Health were never commensurate with the challenges that are being faced currently.
For example, we had never been prepared for a situation where a health facility would charge in hundreds of millions of shillings in order to offer treatment to a patient as we are hearing of how patients are being charged in millions to access ICU treatment in certain hospitals.
No citizen ever envisaged that getting treatment would cost as much as Shs.5 million each single day as some hospitals are reportedly charging. Certainly no one ever envisaged that a health facility would ever require anyone to deposit a collateral such as a land title or mortgage one’s house to the hospital before one can be admitted and receive treatment. This is all new!
The country was never prepared for a situation whereby the wananchi in spite of being charged highly in hospital fees, once the patient dies, the dead body is withheld until the entire huge bill is cleared.
We have seen reports about this very inhumane situations happening and being flashed all over the media. Early this week, we saw reports of a notice to sue Paramount Hospital which had allegedly detained a dead body over unpaid bills amounting to Shs 31 millions.
Through their lawyers of Luzige and Co Advocates, the family accuses Paramount Hospital for having occasioned the death of their relative who died three days after having been abruptly taken off the oxygen in addition to refusing to give them the body of their beloved relative.
The country for sure had never seen this kind of insensitivity and greed in hospitals. This is now playing out fully during this second wave.
But thanks to the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council (UMDPC), which has come out to caution hospitals and health workers to desist from detaining bodies over unpaid bills.
We had not experienced a situation where someone would consciously withdraw or pull off oxygen from a gasping patient and live him or her to die for not being able to raise the demanded money as a bribe for the service.
This is reported to have happened early this week in Hoima Referral Hospital where an employee of the hospital pulled away an oxygen cylinder that was supplying oxygen to woman patient simply because the husband had failed to raise the Shs 100,000 that the employee was demanding.
We saw images of a grief stricken husband sobbing while holding a picture of his wife whom he had just buried. This was reported in NBS TV news.
We had never experienced a situation where health workers would pull off a patient from oxygen supply and live that patient to gasp for air till finally the patient passes away simply because the patient is perceived or suspected that he/she or the relatives won’t possibly be able to meet the hospital bills in case the patient is discharged or died.
We had never experienced a situation where hospital workers had to cause death of patients on the ward simply because they were not being listened to by the hospital management in their demand for procurement of a new generator so they tamper with the automation system of the hospital generator.
When there is a power outage, the generator doesn’t switch on automatically to enable continuous supply of oxygen to the wards and ICU of the hospital, like a sad case that happened last week in Arua Hospital.
The two employees were later found the following morning drinking in a nearby bar (don’t mind the fact that the country is in lockdown and bars are closed), but six precious lives had already been lost.
This is definitely new in Uganda where the lives of patients are just anything but to fiddle around with!
We had never experienced a situation where a country that boasts of being endowed with skilful human capital and revamped health facilities, the health workers get to a situation where they have to choose who of the patients in the ward should die and who should be saved due to persistent shortage of the critical life saving essentials such oxygen, ventilators, ICU beds, PPEs etc..
It was reported by the Daily Monitor newspaper of June 17th 2021 that 30 patients died from Mulago ICU and HDU due to malfunctioning of the oxygen supply system.
Well, since the authorities in Mulago never admitted the incident, no one has ever sued them for this disastrous loss of lives that were under their care.
All the above summed up mean that as a country we are heading for even tougher times where many new unheard of and unfathomed things are going to happen as we head into the next wave of the pandemic.
However, we need not be as if we saw nothing and hence learnt nothing from the first and the second wave!
Let us hope that the managers of the pandemic both from the National Task Force and the Ministry of Health in particular will this time rise up to the occasion of planning better and getting the country be prepared better before the third wave hits us.
Now that it is known that in order to fight Covid-19, oxygen is one of the critical resource that is needed in hospitals and health facilities, there is need for government to start arranging to be delivering this oxygen in gas truck tankers to where it is needed instead of hospitals relying on cylinders for bulk delivery.
Besides, we have been also informed that there are not sufficient numbers of empty medical oxygen cylinders in the country.
We are still waiting to be told when the 3,000 cylinders that are reported to have been ordered from abroad will be shipped!
But one would really wonder as to why we are still relying and placing our hopes in the shippers yet we do as a country have our own planes that are sitting idle on tarmac at Entebbe Airport.
Why not use these planes to airlift the cylinders to the country. It just beats everyone’s understanding when the Ministry of Health simply throws its arms in the air regarding the importation of such critical equipment in our fight against the pandemic!
It must be noted that it is very hazardous to be transporting this highly pressurized gas in cylinders and on Boda Bodas for long distances as has been seen lately when desperate relatives of patients stampede the various oxygen producing plants in the city like at Roofings on Entebbe Road and Tembo Factories to refill their own cylinders.
It is during this short preparation period before the third wave sets in that government must upgrade and enhance each Regional Referral Hospital’s capacity to store sufficient oxygen for use not only in the hospital itself, but also for distribution to other supported health facilities.
Government should move quickly to alleviate the shortage of medical oxygen cylinders in the country before the third wave sets in.
It was reported that there is a factory in Namanve that was commissioned in 2019 to manufacture the Liquified Pressurized Gas (LPG) cylinders and if it true that this factory is indeed in production of 1,000 LPG cylinders a day, there is no reason why it can’t be shown the business value in also producing the medical oxygen cylinders because the ingredients are not different except the configuration and size of the cylinders.
Needless to say, as we do prepare to tackle this pandemic now and when the lethal Delta Plus variant hits us, there is this need for the Head of State to crack the whip.
The country is eagerly looking forward to seeing how he puts his slogan of “Hakuna Mchezo” in real practice.
The wananchi are getting nauseated by the never ending stories of outright theft, converted miss use of government resources, impunity and abuse of office that seem to have characterized the first phase of the wave.
Through the application of Magufulification, Mr. President you can actually recover unbelievably huge sums of money that can be used to meet all the current financial demands of fighting this pandemic without even having to resort to more borrowing!
As we prepare for the third wave, we certainly can no longer afford to have our frontline workers, the doctors and other health workers go without their salaries or allowances.
We can no longer afford to have our front line workers work in an environment that isn’t safe for them due to constant lack of Personal Protection Equipments (PPEs).
These frontline workers sacrifice a lot including putting their own lives and those of their relatives at high risk in order to try and save as many of our lives as humanly possible.
So it is high time we do start treating them with the dignity and honour that they deserve.
It would be a case of being insensitive to the very people that we all rely on for our lives in the hospitals and other health facilities not to be paid their salaries and allowances for up to 10 months yet for sure they too have personal and family needs just like all of us do.
We have heard reports of where the officials in the Ministry of Health and Finance admitted that the money meant to pay the salaries of doctors and other health workers is intact and being kept on the bank account.
It then becomes ironical that money is kept sitting somewhere on a bank account instead of disbursing it to the people that need it desperately.
For what purpose is this money being kept on a bank account and for how long is it going to be there? Is it being kept in order to earn more revenue in terms of interest that will accrue on it?
Who will be the beneficiaries of the accrued interest on this money?
Surely, the country cannot continue to allow this insensitiveness, and impunity being exhibited by those that are given the duty to manage the affairs of the health workers of this country to this extent.
The real danger that the country faces if we don’t attend to the needs of the health workers is the possibility of an eminent drain of the country of her experienced and knowledgeable health workers.
This is a fact of history that has ever happened before.
It should be recalled that in the 1970s and early ‘80s during the Amin and Obote II regimes respectively, Uganda lost almost all its medical personnel.
There was a huge flight of consultants, surgeons, doctors and nurses who found their way to foreign countries where they felt that their services were more valued and their lives were safer.
This episode can easily be repeated here if we continue to mishandle these health workers.
It will be absurd when after equipping the hospitals with beds and oxygen, but only to find out that the doctors and other critical health workers who would be attending to us in these facilities are actually absent and that they have fled the country due to the poor working conditions that they are being subjected to.
Let us not take these groups in our society for granted and mishandle them. Many countries out there would be, for sure willing to take them in with open hands and with more dignity.
By Edward Kafufu Baliddawa