BY CHRIS FRANK & MUSINGUZI GOODLUCK RONALD
HOIMA: Wednesday, August 11, 2021
As Uganda got out of the second wave and lockdown due to Covid19 pandemic where over 2400 people died, different districts in Uganda are making sure they reduce or wipe out infections in their areas.
In a bid to curb community infections and enforce compliance to the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs), the officials in Hoima City and Hoima district have embarked on forming a task-force at every village.
This is after reports that Covid-19 patients under home-based care were not complying with the provided guidelines thereby contributing to the spread of more infection.
Samuel Kisembo, the Hoima Resident City Commissioner and chairperson of the covid-19 task-force observed that patients receiving treatment at their homes were mixing with the community before they get cured.
Kisembo said that the village committee composed of nine people will be charged with monitoring patients in their respective village, take records of patients and give reports to the district task force including information regarding how patients are observing SOPs.
He added that the village task-forces which are still under orientation is composed of village chairperson, secretary for children affairs, two members of the village health team and religious leaders.
Wilfred Ndozireho, the Hoima City health inspector, said the village task-force would ensure that persons quarantined at home do not come out of their houses and assist the government medical team in contact tracing.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has spanned over 220 countries and territories with more than 220m cases reported with 4 million people dead and close to 200 million people recovered.
In this context, Uganda has handled COVID-19 admirably. Uganda is an East African country with an estimated population of 43.3 million (July 2020) and a gross domestic product of US $26.6 billion.
The Ugandan government demonstrated its preparedness to respond to COVID-19 before the country recorded its first case. The initial measures included restricting travel to and from high-risk countries; dispersing concentration points of people such as schools and colleges and religious, political, or social gatherings; and enforcing mandatory institutional quarantine of all incoming travelers.
Uganda recorded its first COVID-19 case on March 22, 2020, 11 days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The first case triggered the Ugandan government to respond more aggressively by restricting public gatherings and imposing a curfew and a total travel ban into and out of the country, allowing only essential goods.
As of August , 2021, Uganda had close to 20,000 active cases, over 100,000 confirmed cases, close to 90,000 recoveries, and 2600 COVID-19–related deaths.
Uganda had the seventh lowest number of cases (89) per million population in Africa (after Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Burundi, Western Sahara, and Tanzania) and the fourth lowest number of COVID-19–related deaths (1.0) per million population, with some of the countries with lower numbers (Tanzania and Burundi) having questionable data in the first lockdown.
The government of Uganda set up district task forces in all 134 districts of Uganda. In many districts, the district task forces have taken several initiatives to drive their COVID-19 response strategies, including updating risk communication strategies, increasing awareness through mainstream and social media, conducting social mobilization activities, distributing information and educational and communication materials in local languages, and facilitating community dialogue and engagement activities.
The Ugandan government established a community-based disease surveillance (CBDS) and contact tracing model that comprised a diverse group of health professionals. The CBDS is lauded as a game changer in the COVID-19 response.
For example, the CBDS has been most effective in detecting COVID-19 cases at the border districts. Specifically, in Rakai District, the first four community cases were detected through the vigilance of village health teams and local councils by using CBDS guidelines. Evidence shows that positive cases and contacts have been detected through CBDS in several districts including border communities.
The CBDS was largely successful because of the strong administrative structures in Uganda at the village and grassroots levels.
The government of Uganda has been lifting restrictions gradually since May 4, 2020, with a phased transition to reopen the economy. Most important, as of September 10, 2020, restrictions are in place regarding public, religious, and social gatherings.
This contrasts with other countries like Nigeria—currently lifting restrictions despite increasing numbers of cases and deaths. Furthermore, the government made wearing of masks in public settings mandatory and is currently distributing face masks to all households across the 134 districts in Uganda.
Although some Asian countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan are considered as exemplary around the world in their public health response to COVID-19,we believe that the Ugandan response, in both African and global contexts, is equally commendable, and it teaches us that the economic standing (high or low income) of a country does not necessarily determine preparedness for pandemics.
This is true not only for countries in Africa such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt (the top three economies and the three countries with the most COVID-19 cases) but also for high-income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
We emphasize that dealing with a pandemic in the twenty-first century requires a coordinated national strategy with multi stakeholders and multifaceted approaches revolving around effective leadership; evidence-based risk communication; and strategic public health interventions such as mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantining of affected individuals, hand hygiene, and social distancing measures.
The Uganda Virus Research Institute has been actively responding to disease outbreaks in other parts of Africa. The institute’s experience, coupled with the existence of a strong pool of local experts who are very knowledgeable in handling highly infectious organisms and a clear structure for public health emergency response within the Ministry of Health, played a major role in making Uganda’s response to COVID-19 successful.
Almost 80% of COVID-19 cases in Uganda are caused by truck drivers from neighboring countries. In case of a second wave of COVID-19, the Ugandan government will need a clear strategy to address this risk. We also stress that people with other diseases and pregnant women need more attention to avoid a spike in mortalities and morbidities from pregnancy and other diseases.
Overall, Uganda is rated highly in handling the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa compared with countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt. Because of the large, informal urban settlements and rural areas of Africa, a successful pandemic response is dependent on success being recorded in these communities. This includes robust testing, contact tracing, clear risk communication strategies, gradual easing of restrictions, hand hygiene, and personal protective equipment.
Other African countries can learn from the Ugandan model of pandemic containment, especially in the event of a second wave of COVID-19 or another pandemic. We also underscore the critical role of building local capacity for effective pandemic response.