Dr Elizabeth Ekirapa-Kiracho
I want to applaud his Excellency the President of Uganda and the Ministry of Health (MoH) for the measures that they have taken to control the spread of the new corona virus. Whereas we have made a lot of commendable progress, there are a few areas, where I think we need to do more. This is based on key messages from interventions in different parts of the world, communication from some experts and observations of our response and participation in the process. I shall focus on four main groups for the purpose of this article.
The general public: The main role of the general public is to practice the prevention measures. We need to be more vigilant in implementing the social distance measures. Try not to be in any activity that brings you within one metre distance of another person. Try even harder to keep away from the elderly people and those with chronic conditions. Loving them right now means staying away from them, for they are the ones who have the highest risk. Ensure you have soap and water readily available in your home and make sure everyone is washing their hands frequently and thoroughly. If you have been quarantined, please respect the quarantine rules and do not switch off your phones, so that you can be followed up, by so doing you will be protecting yourself and those around you. One of the challenges that the first responders have been facing is people switching off their phones.
If you are an employer; there are three main things that you need to do. Where possible, allow your employees to work from home. Take the initiative to put in place all the recommended measures for prevention at the workplace. Avail soap, water and sanitizers, reorganize the workplace to allow for social distancing. These facilities should be available even for your customers. Do not wait for the Government or MoH to provide these things, that is your contribution to the battle. Thirdly, think innovatively about how you can keep your business running to avoid laying off your workers. While countries in the West have been able to give stimulus packages, more resource constrained countries may struggle to do so, hence we must not sit back and just wait for Government bailout.
My main appeal to Government is to provide more resources for fighting the COVID 19 pandemic. Only 5 billion Uganda shillings has been released for the intervention and yet the needs are immense. The health workers and first responders do not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and yet they are on the frontline. We are seeing health workers getting infected in other countries, almost fifty have died in Italy, we do not want to see the same in Uganda. We need to expand our capacity to provide critical resources such as oxygen and ventilators for those who may get a severe form of the disease. Government needs to put in place mechanisms that can increase local capacity to produce personal protective equipment and other medical supplies. Factories that are able to produce these products should be receiving all the support that they need to step up production.
Regional referral hospitals have received training and supplies to treat patients with COVID-19.
However, all district health officers and facility managers in both public and private health facilities also need to prepare to attend to the COVID 19 patients in the event that we get a spike in numbers. COVID 19 case management guidelines are available on the MoH COVID 19 information portal. Let us not shun patients with cough, fever and flu rather, be familiar with the actions MoH is recommending for suspected, probable or confirmed patients with COVID 19.
Ensure you have readily available PPE that you can use to assess any patient who may present with COVID like symptoms. Very elderly health workers and those with chronic conditions who are a high-risk category, should perhaps avoid attending to patients confirmed to have COVID 19 because they may have poor outcomes if they contract COVID 19.
As I end, I say Aluta continua! with God’s help and the great leadership that we have, we shall win this battle.
*The author is the Program Director of the Makerere University School of Public Health Field Epidemiology Training Programme.