By Edward Baliddawa
In a desperate attempt to push back the ravaging Covid Pandemic, we are being bombarded in all kinds of media but more particularly the on social media with all sorts of information from all kinds of sources purporting to offer solutions as cure and as preventive measures to the disease.
In equal measure we continue to get serious cautions about the dangers involved in indiscriminate use of unconventional or clinically unapproved methods and concoctions that are now going viral everywhere as some of the ways one can employ to push back the virus. There is simply currently an information overload for everyone particularly those listeners of health programs on radios and Tvs and on social media. People have created various WhatsApp groups of friends and people they know with the sole of purpose of sharing quickly tips and information regarding the virus. Let us face it, these group chats are helping many people to speak out their anxiety, share personal experiences with fighting the disease but also in recommending which measures and concoctions to take to beat the virus. Undoubtedly many lives have been saved as a result of this quick information sharing closed network use.
What is notable is that although there continues to be warnings from the Medical fraternity to the wananchi about the use of the unconventional methods to treat or prevent the infection, their use is on the rise.
Unfortunately it seems that we have come to a phase where it doesn’t matter anymore what the individual is using in a bid to stay alive.
People are desperate and with no definite cure in sight, people will use anything they get their hands on. In these WhatsApp group chats you get to listen to horrifying testimonies of how those dying are all passing away while gasping for oxygen. It is becoming very difficult to know if going to a hospital and being placed on oxygen will increase or instead diminish your chances of survival!
There is a horrifying unbelievable story yet true of how 6 patients died in Arua Hospital this week when there was a power outage and the hospital generator didn’t automatically kick in to allow continuous flow of oxygen to the ICU patients. This tragic incident that was reported on TV news narrated that the reason why the generator malfunctioned was because the two hospital employees who are entrusted with ensuring that the generator is functioning at all times, had tampered with the automation system of the generator. They disabled the automation system deliberately. The reason they gave for doing this was that they wanted to send a message to the hospital managers about the need to procure a new generator.
On that fateful night, these two employees after disabling the automation system of the generator went out for a drink till they were tracked down by the authorities the following morning. It is reported that 4 patients had died in the night and 2 died early in the morning. In fact, if the authorities had delayed further to indentify the problem of the generator and if grid power had taken a lot longer to be back, certainly more patients would have died for lack of oxygen supply.
That is the state in which we are. I am sure that such horrifying stories are many and are all over the country. This points to a health system that has failed or broken down. We may want to argue about this, but that is the damn truth. The sad stories of our health system range from lack of ICU beds, lack of oxygen, lack of PPEs, lack of medical workers to those that are not paid allowances and salaries.
Yesterday, we were further treated to a shocking incident in a video clip that went viral on social media. It was about a lady who was desperate for her dying son who needed oxygen, so she had to do the otherwise unthinkable of grabbing an oxygen cylinder from the hospital workers. She wanted to carry it away. The clip doesn’t show the ending of the altercation that ensued. However a powerful message had been delivered. The situation is getting desperate and as such people might resort to doing desperate things because the situation isn’t normal at all.
The situation cannot be left to continue like this. The solution to all this must be a serious re-think of the management of the pandemic. The managers of the affairs of this country need to realize that we are in a situation similar to that of an insurgency. The raging Covid virus has made an incursion in our country and we must treat it as such. We need therefore to employ extra ordinary measures to push back this incursion. It can no longer be left to the usual casual medical field workers who are currently overwhelmed. In most upcountry hospitals, the health workers have fallen victim to the virus and most of them have abandoned their stations in order to be able to take care of themselves and their loved ones.
We need to rise up and address the issue of short supply of oxygen in the health facilities. Each person dying is passing out while gasping for oxygen. This is terrible and painful. It is traumatizing to those caring for the dying patient.
Two weeks ago, it was reported that National Enterprises Corporation the Manufacturing arm of UPDF in Bombo had started manufacturing oxygen and that many hospitals had started benefiting from this noble intervention. This is indeed commendable and we hope that the capacity will be swiftly enhanced so that even none referral hospitals can have access to this currently the most valuable resource in the fight against Covid.
Now that the supply of oxygen issue is being tackled, there is an urgent need to swiftly and decisively address the issue of non availability of medical oxygen cylinders in the country. Oxygen and the cylinders go hand in hand and are equally valuable resource. We must have both in sufficient numbers in our fight against this incursion of Covid.
There is a WhatsApp message on social media that has been attributed to the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health Dr. Diana Atwine to the effect that she was telling the country that the government has actually placed an international order for 3,000 cylinders but the arrival in the country of these cylinders is not known since it all depends on the shippers. I haven’t gotten opportunity to verify this message with the PS, but if it is true that it is from her, then we need to revisit it. As I said, it must be appreciated that this is a situation equivalent to a war. In such a situation, saving lives becomes a matter of priority over everything else. If we placed an order for the cylinders and they are ready to be picked up, why wait for the so-called shippers? This country purchased 6 modern planes which are currently idle at the Airport or are operating under capacity due to the global limitations imposed as a result of the pandemic. Would it be really wasting tax payer’s money if these planes were deployed to ferry the cylinders in the country quickly so that the tax payers’ lives can be saved!!
While at the issue of cylinders, we need also to know that it is mainly the private actors that do import the cylinders all the way from either India or China. With the current global demand for these cylinders, placing an order and being able to secure the real delivery of these cylinders can be a real challenge. Probably this is what PS Dr. Atwine was alluding to in her caution about the cylinders.
Therefore, if we are going to fight this disease decisively, there must be a rise up on the things that have for a long time been pointed out as strategic in the development of the country. The iron and steel industry is one of such strategic industries.
Continuous importation of these cylinders and other metallurgical inputs is not enough and sustainable remedy to our situation. Uganda as a country should be exploring possibilities of being able to manufacture these medical gas cylinders here locally. It is imperative that the country starts aggressively to pursue the exploration, extraction and processing of the abundant iron ore in Muko in Kabale and elsewhere. There is a need to expedite our quest for industrialization by resuscitating and developing our iron and steel industry. I am sure that if our iron and steel industry was function and mature, we would be harvesting major lead advantages in the entire East African region in terms of being able to provide them with the required iron and steel metallic materials for the construction of the SGR projects that are being undertaken in both Kenya and Tanzania. It would also without a doubt make our aspiration for our own SGR be realizable much faster and cheaply.