By Innocent Atuhe
Dear H.E. Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni,
I congratulate you upon your recent election and swearing-in as the President of the Republic of Uganda. I take this golden opportunity to also wish you a very successful term of office.
As you are aware, this term of office is beginning at an unprecedented time when the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting the Pearl of Africa hardest than ever before. As I write this, reports from the Ministry of Health and the media are indicating that the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and High Life Dependency Units (HLDU) at Mulago National Referral Hospital and Entebbe Regional Referral Hospital are full to capacity.
At the same time, Uganda has been hit by several Covid-19 variants that are fast spreading, very fatal and we may soon see another India, Brazil, and Italy situation here. All these are coming at a time when Ugandans and, especially your Bazzukulu, are enjoying life as never before without due attention to Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) and fear for the disease.
In the month of August 2020, the Lancet Covid-19 Commission ranked Uganda as the best country in Africa in terms of suppressing the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the rankings, Uganda was 10th out of 91 countries that were analysed across the globe and leaving it first in Africa followed by Togo, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria. During this time, you were actively leading the Covid-19 fight from the front seat as the driver. I remember your several country addresses on the pandemic.
All Ugandans would keep waiting to listen to you and this provided excellent opportunities to drive Covid-19 preventive messages into the hardened hearts of Ugandans. Now they say ‘emitiima gyakaluba’’. That they no longer care about Covid-19. You were the main driver rallying Ugandans to follow SOPs. Severally and repeatedly giving health advice on Covid-19 SOPs. I hope you did not park the bus or join the co-driver’s seat. As of today, it is like the bus (read Covid-19 fight) is being driven by the conductor, not the experienced, battle-hardened, undefeatable Ssebalwanyi.
You very well know that Ugandans and, especially your Bazzukulu are very stubborn and need constant reminders and spanking to follow rules and guidelines. Their hearts are hardened. They will only complain that the government is not doing enough. That the health care system is very poor, but will not follow or encourage their brothers, sisters and relatives to follow SOPs. We need your renewed command, guidance, leadership, and action in the Covid-19 battle now than ever before.
The technical people and security personnel have slept. I have been at three regional referral hospitals and Mulago National Referral, but many people move in and out with no masks, no washing hands, and no keeping of social distance. Your beloved peasants got tired of washing hands a long time ago. Weddings, burials, and other public gatherings have resumed fully with non-regard to Covid-19 SOPs. Soon the enemy (covid-19) will mix with us, surround and annihilate us if nothing is done urgently, effectively, and efficiently.
Research has shown the effectiveness of Covid-19 SOPs in arresting the pandemic. It is not about having the best healthcare system. It is not about having many ICU beds, a lot of oxygen, or many health workers in hospitals. Italy, India, and the US had fairly a better health system than Uganda. Not even the vaccines can help greatly now because the coverage is still too low to offer us hard immunity. India has been the supplier of vaccines in low-income countries. Look at where it is. No nation in the world, rich or poor, will be able to control Covid-19 by increasing hospital beds, oxygen, ventilators or ICU Beds. It is about following the SOPs. SOPs. SOPs. SOPs. SOPs. And Sops. Or else we lose the battle.
Allow me to add my voice to that of experts in suggesting what must be done now urgently and effectively to control the second wave;
First and foremost, we need strict enforcement of Covid-19 SOPs both by the technical and security personnel. Mr. President, as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, you need to rein in on your security personnel to ensure they enforce the SOPs without discrimination, corruption, and harassment of Ugandans.
Secondly, we need to devise new, innovative, and effective social behaviour change communication using a combination of Health Belief Model and other models. Ugandans have relaxed. Emitiima gy’akaluba.
It is the behaviour of Ugandans that will decide the course of this pandemic. They need a new appreciation of the seriousness, fatality, and impact of Covid-19 on their lives and country in order to take action.
We need to rally Ugandans individually and collectively to actively participate in the fight against Covid-19 as they did when the first wave had just started. This is not only the Government’s fight but every Ugandan’s fight.
And lastly, but not least, we need renewed and effective leadership of the fight. I have no doubt that Mr. President, you can offer this as you have done before in the HIV/AIDS and immunisable diseases’ fight and at the beginning of this epidemic. You have fought and won many battles. Do not be defeated by COVID-19.
The writer is a Senior Clinician and Community Health Worker at Center for Research and Innovations at King Ceasor University.