Uganda is no stranger to infectious diseases but with the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic, the country’s economic and health system is on the verge of a catastrophe as cases keep rising every day. However, the country has so far escaped the worst of scenarios of the pandemic, registering only 2 deaths so far compared to the other African countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa which are considered to be the continent’s hot spots. South Africa alone accounts for half of the continent’s infections.
But as the virus continues to spread and the country gradually reopens, health experts from The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) are worried that if the anti-COVID19 precautions are not taken seriously by Ugandans, cases might tremendously escalate to tens of thousands in the shortest time frame which could trigger a second lockdown.
Uganda has been considered to be a success story in the fight of COVID19 with only 2 registered deaths so far because of a number reasons;
- Uganda was hit at a much later stage as compared to the other countries on the continent such as South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and Rwanda. This gave the country time to prepare should the pandemic hit. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ordered a blanket lockdown much earlier than the other countries regardless of the few cases that had been registered. By 31stMarch 2020, Uganda was under total lockdown with restricted local and international movements yet it had only 11 registered cases countrywide which flattened the curve for a significant amount of time.
- There was little resistance by nationals to the lockdown, especially in the early days. Much as there was a bit of grumbling and controversies especially from the economic perspective, horrific images of the COVID19’s magnitude in countries like Italy and the city of Wuhan in China that was circulating on the internet created a sense of trepidation of the pandemic among Ugandans before it hit. Every ban, restriction, and the anti-COVID19 measure was aggressively implemented and followed. Impulse buying of sanitary products such as sanitizers, gloves, and face masks was noticed as every individual tried to take all the necessary precautions not to catch the virus.
- Tight anti-COVID19 measures and restrictions were implemented by the Ugandan government in the attempt to contain the spread of the virus. Much as social distancing in the country’s populous cities such as Kampala is a mere privilege because of the slum urban landscape, a plan had to be devised. By the end of March 2020, local food markets had to only operate after implementing a social distancing policy allowing 4 meters to the right, left, front and rare between buyer and seller, seller and buyer. Public transport was banned, social gatherings of more than 5 people were prohibited, a curfew was introduced from 7:00 pm to 6:30 am which has now been adjusted to 9:00 pm to 5:30 am and every Ugandan is expected to stay indoors, except for cargo transporters. This has tremendously helped to curb the spread of the virus and easily track and trace the cases that could be within the public.
- The dichotomous nature of Uganda’s populace has enabled the economy to systematically bounce back amidst the pandemic. Being dichotomous is being in a position to exhibit two totally contradictory and mutually exclusive characteristics. The World Bank sees that countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are hitting their first major recession in almost a quarter a century and this could push over 3.15 million Ugandans to live below the poverty line. With the majority of Ugandans making a living from the informal sector; making an average of 8 dollars a day, these people completely fell off the cliff because of the lockdown. However, as the country starts to reopen, it has been easier for this group of people to start up again because they need less initial capital startup making the economy bounce back easily. Street vendors and other small retail businesses to be specific need an average of 500,000/= (UGX)as start-up capital which is easily attainable especially now when the government is trying as much as it can to put back the economy on its feet through low-interest rate loans and tax subsidization to businesses. In fact, in June 2020, The World Bank approved $300 million to support the Ugandan government in the economic recovery initiative and treating COVID19 patients.
- The nature of Uganda’s population has been such a success drive factor. 60% of the country’s population is below the age of 30 thus a relatively low mortality rate. The nature of this virus pretty much affects elderly people and the death rates are much higher in these groups that have Non-Communicable diseases(NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension, and other cardiac issues which are diseases of affluence. In Uganda, diseases of poverty such as malaria are much bigger an issue and the country has been long prepared.
- The abundance and distribution of food made the lockdown possible. A hungry man is an angry man but Uganda as it is, the country has never experienced a period of extreme hunger because of the fertile soils and favorable climate to support its agriculture. Therefore, on average every Ugandan can be able to access a meal a day. When the lockdown was announced by the President at the end of March 2020, many people were in fear of going into a period of extreme hunger. The government had to, therefore, put up an initiative; COVIDUGFOODRELIEF spearheaded by the Ugandan Army with support from individual personnel, the World Food Program, and Red Cross to solicit and distribute nutritious food to the most vulnerable groups of people. This was especially in the central urban districts of the country such as Wakiso and Kampala where people don’t have land to practice agriculture for food. In rural areas where arable land is abundant, hunger is just a myth.
In conclusion, Much as Uganda has done tremendously well in the fight of COVID19, it is only upon its nationals all the anti-COVID19 precautions because as cases keep rising, a second lockdown could be inevitable.
The author MaClean Atuhaire can be reached at [email protected]