When the gale of infection of the novel coronavirus blows all around the world, Africa seems to be spared, however, it didn’t take very long for the continent to catch up with the trend. It took 98 days for COVID-19 cases to rise from zero to 100,000. But the pace in which cases took to accelerate to 400,000 cases shows how seriously the disease is spreading in the continent.
Nevertheless, there is one landlocked country in the horn of Africa who seemed to be less afflicted by the covid-19 pandemic. Uganda, the country of 42 million residents remains one of the least affected countries in Africa. With only 893 cases and no single confirmed death, as of the 2nd of July, it is evident that this country is championing the war against Covid-19 in Africa.
To the many, the government’s swift response towards minimizing the impact of the virus came as a surprise given the country’s current economic state, limited foreign support, and relatively fragile Healthcare system. Despite all these constraints, Uganda still manages to keep the COVID-19 under control.
Capitalizing social media to raise public awareness
“Evidently, we have seen how fast the Coronavirus disease spreads. The general public is our most important audience right now and even though there is no confirmed case in the country, the danger remains high,” notes Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health in the early days of the pandemic.
Uganda has experienced exponential growth in internet users over the years, which means the general public now relies on the various social media platforms to get updated about the ongoing pandemic. This presents the Uganda government an unparalleled advantage to be able to reach a magnitude of people with the awareness campaign in real-time and also responding to their queries. This campaign was intensified when president Museveni on his personal twitter account by routinely sharing updates and encouraging the Uganda citizens to take the pandemic seriously and avoid the stigma attached to coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health also partnered with electronic print media to further their reach by sharing regular preventive behaviors and other measures implemented by the government.
In some furthermost regions that lack access to radio or television, some organizations make a difference in spearheading the awareness campaign. BRAC and Finn Church Aid (FCA) in partnership with the Ministry of Health, helped disseminate life-saving information to islands and refugee camps. The organizations were able to reach over 700,000 people in less than two months.
Photo Credited: Xinhua News
Using previous epidemic experience to develop an effective approach
When it comes to disease outbreak, Uganda is not new to the game. The country has for a long time been in the active mode of battling with many outbreaks most notably Yellow Fever, Hepatitis, Marburg, Malaria, among others. This successful control of epidemic gives Health officials a robust knowledge of developing a hybrid approach towards outbreak containment.
“We have been monitoring outbreaks of Yellow Fever and CCHF in some parts of Uganda. The declaration of Covid-19 is yet another test that we are going to take on firmly, and the systems are in place,” says Dr. Aceng.
The government's central focus is to protect innocent Ugandans from the ongoing outbreak. For early detection of the virus, the Ministry of Health swiftly implements enhanced surveillance through mandatory screening for flu-like symptoms and taking of temperature of travelers at airports, land borders, and other vulnerable places in order to prevent the importation of cases into the country.
The medical practitioners have been on high alert and have been equipped with the necessary knowledge in dealing with the outbreak whenever it occurred. For instance, the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Entebbe, and Naguru referral hospitals were some of the hospitals that were prepared to run confirmatory tests in a matter of hours upon receipt of samples.
The government's rapid response toward the growing number of confirmed cases.
As the COVID-19 began to gain ground in Africa, with few isolated cases being recorded in the neighboring countries, the Uganda government has realized it is just a matter of time for Uganda to follow suit.
This prompted Uganda's authorities to institute multiple preventive measures, this includes temporarily shutting down of an international border including land, air, and water except for cargoes. Any congregation that can attract large gatherings such as sports events, educational institutions, the marketplace, worships places among many were banned. Movement of people were also restricted through stay-at-home policy.
Furthermore, the Ugandan nationals who returned from high-risk infected countries were compelled to undergo mandatory 14 days of strict quarantine. Those who do not comply or complete their quarantine duration were traced down and isolated.
Throughout March to May, Uganda continued to ramp up aggressive covid-19 testing, strict regime of rigorous contact tracing, and converting public dormitories to increase the capacity of quarantine.
Although the treatment of the positive confirmed cases was initially carried out at the two national-level facilities, overtime, it got decentralized to the regional centres in order to meet the par of the growing cases, enhance efficiency, and equity. Those people with negative cases were monitored and given health advice from the Ministry of health through a mobile app.
The frontline Truck-drivers who are transporting cargoes from infected neighboring countries such as Kenya, DR Congo, South Sudan, and others; were also required to stop at the border to perform a ‘diagnostic test’ before entering the country. Those found with positive cases were immediately isolated for medical treatment in the nearby hospital. Meanwhile, those with negative cases are allowed to enter the country.
Using homegrown creative solutions to address gaps in the response to the COVID-19 in Uganda.
A team-led by Dr. Misaki Wayengera at Makerere University worked to develop an inexpensive COVID-19 test kit that can deliver results quickly, offering hope for a “homegrown solution.” The locally made covid-19 testing kit can produce results in a minute or two, whereas the four-to-six hours it takes to get results from the German and Chinese kits.
The homegrown solution is valuably timely for, especially the truck-drivers who will have to wait for several hours at the border for the testing to be carried out can now get their testing done and get the result instantly.
“Everyone is running to the market and the variance in economic prowess means poor countries like those in sub-Saharan Africa are left with nothing. We must innovate around these shortages to fight the pandemic.” Wayengera said.
Each kit will cost an estimated US$1.07 (4,000 Ugandan shillings), making testing affordable. It is intended for use in rural settings, which often lack laboratory capacity or expertise.
Some poor people who could not afford hand sanitizer also developed their own innovative homemade hand washing with local materials such as gallon, rope, wood, etc.
Apart from innovation, patriotic volunteers all around the country are also conjoined to fight the outbreak by manufacturing face masks and other protective equipment to help the frontline workers.
The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 is so far salutary.
As of June 4, the restrictions put in place in an effort to contain the spread of the virus were finally eased. Micro-businesses and the informal workers who were badly hit by the freedom of movement restriction were allowed back to operation under COVID-19 protocol.
As of July 2nd, Uganda has so far discharged 833 out of 893 COVID-19 patients, while the overall sample testing stands at 192,813 tests.
The Ministry of Health continues to demonstrate their leadership altruism by providing regular updates and briefing.
Finally, it is too early to claim victory by Uganda over covid-19 response because governments still have to scale up their efforts to tackle the inevitable “surge” stage of the crisis. The country has never relent but the country continues to mobilize national resources and encourage voluntary activities to address the public-health emergency.