COVID19: A reflective mirror for a better Uganda

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243 Coronavirus Cases reported in the last 24 hours as political campaigns gear up

OPINION– We had warned Uganda about the grave damage corona virus could cause, along with my colleagues Dr Kanakulya Dickson of Makerere University, Mugagula Moses, on a TV talk show ‘Arise and Shine’ moderated by Kanala Moses at Channel 44 studios, since coronavirus broke officially out in Wuhan, China, in November 2019, but it had started earlier and voices were subdued and subsequently declared a global pandemic by World Health Organization in early 2020.

We laboured to open the eyes of our leaders to prepare early enough owing to our weak systems and low funding in research, coupled with a poor government information outflow and engagement. 

When reality finaled check in that the invisible enemy had invaded Uganda, as we dragged our feet on measures to be taken on Monday, March 31, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced a 14-day nationwide lockdown from Wednesday, April 1, to prevent further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Under those  measures, the movement of people by private vehicles will be prohibited from 22:00 (local time) on, March 30. In addition, a nation wide curfew from 19:00 to 06:30 was put in place from Tuesday, March 31. All members of the public, except for individuals transporting cargo, were instructed to stay indoors. Gatherings of more than five people were banned as a precautionary measure. 

Shopping malls, arcades, hardware shops and all non-food stores, except for supermarkets and pharmacies, also suspended for 14 days from April 1. Meanwhile, a ban on all public transport remained in place as of Wednesday, March 25. Uganda’s borders were closed since Saturday, March 21, due to the COVID-19 pandemic as authorities closed all land, water, and air points of entry, while only cargo and humanitarian flights will be allowed to land in the country.

On March 11, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic, it identified symptoms like dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. And warned that it was contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. 

Government of Uganda measures to mitigate the spread of the virus at that time, hand washing, social distance, wearing of masks, and advised people to postpone non-essential travel,  but lectured people on what to do when coughing and sneezing, to cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands. 

While those experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the disease.

Education: Time to Promote Regional Schools. Our education is considered to be a powerful tool for growth throughout many sectors in Uganda. The country has overtime labeled education as a key component for driving for social growth, economic development, and transformation since becoming politically independent, as well as helping to achieve a more united nation and democratic reforms.  

In addition, Uganda’s vision 2040, which provides paths to becoming a more prosperous nation, highlights education as a crucial mechanism for economic growth by providing human capital. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has pressed serious threats to education in Uganda, and innovative solutions are greatly needed to support and ensure the continued education of rural populations. 

Majority of students do complete primary school in urban areas as opposed to rural areas, and around 91% of children attend primary school in urban areas, compared to 85% in rural areas. 

Finally, 80% of Uganda’s school-age children live in rural areas that are characterized by a lack of resources for basic living and underdeveloped infrastructure for education. As the pandemic continues, education in poorer rural areas will be hit the hardest due to underlying disparities.  

UN has estimated that the pandemic’s impact in the education sector will be greatly borne by low and average-income households in both private and public schools. In addition, the loss of instructional time due to lockdowns will hurt the poorest communities the most because education is a key player in reducing poverty (UNDP, 14). With the new wave of corona virus surge in Uganda, today and the subsequent reintroduction of a lockdown by President Museveni, and the stampede during the three given days for children to return home, they crowded in the bus and taxi parks, while fares where more than trippled, since government left public transport in the hands of private investors who are only after profit maximization. 

This should be an eye opener for government to fast track reintroduction of railway and public transport in disadvantaged areas. Since education sector is critical, because such a larger percentage of the population has the potential to increase capital and improve economic growth. In the age of COVID-19, distance learning has become synonymous with technology, but there are massive gaps in access to technology among urban and rural areas in Uganda, which perpetuates inequality.

Time is now for government to support the once glorious and prominent schools spread across the country at primary and secondary. Just imagine paying 150,000/= to Arua, 170,000/= to Gulu, 40,000/= to Jinja and many more places under such stressed economic times, heartless people feasting on the pain of others. 

I did a calculation on how many children leave Gulu to study in Kampala and Wakiso with a baised mind that they will score highly and get admitted to good institutions of higher learning like Makerere, over 500 students who pay 30,000/= for transport to Kampala a whopping (60,000,000/=) millions on transport per term, and most of them pay fees not less than 1,000,000/= ( 500,000,000/=) five hundred millions per term spent upcountry from home. This made me wonder why do we intitate a policy to encourage admission and promotion of our schools within our localities, and my question is What happened to our schools like St. Henry’s College Kitovu, Namasagali College, Nabumali High School, Teso College Aloet and Tororo Girls, Namilyango College,, Maryhill High School, Ntare School, Mbarara High School, Kigezi College Butobere, Busoga College Mwiri and Kigezi High School, Gombe SS, St. Joseph’s SS Naggalama, Kiira College Butiki, St. Joseph’s College Ombachi, Jinja College, Iganga SS, Wanyange Girls School, Christ the King Girls SS Kalisizo,  St. Joseph’s College Layibi, Bulo Parents Mpigi, Immaculate Heart Girls SS Nyakibale,  Bweranyangi Girls, St. Maria Goretti SS Katende, Mityana SS,  St. Peter’s Nsambya, many seed schools started by government and private schools within those areas can’t they accommodate our children to avoid expensive education journeys. All these schools have the capacity to teach and students do well in national examinations, but only need us to trust, invest and give them children, as in the past they nurtured prominent people that have served our country in high regard.

These schools should be empowered, financed and equipped to accommodate the high numbers to study in home schools, with incentives attached. These schools will  provide many intellectual and financial benefits to society.

EconomyBusinesses all over the world including here in Uganda are suffering from lost revenue and disrupted supply chains due to world shut down. With importation of goods becoming a challenge as per the restrictions since last year and China’s rising importance in the global economy is not only related to its status as the leading global manufacturer and exporter of consumer products, but it is also the main supplier of intermediate inputs for many manufacturers elsewhere in the world.  

Country by country lockdown slowded down the global economies, these slowdowns generally lead to lower demand for goods,  and this is exactly what we are witnessing at the moment. Government has insisted that our economy has been resilent and responding positively to the shocks of corona virus pandemic, but Uganda’s economic performance is influenced by developments in the global economic environment. 

Implying that, any slowdown in the global economy as a result of coronavirus will have a negative impact on Uganda’s economy. By the time of lockdown phase one we had opportunities in major expos like, the three-day China International Coffee Specialty Expo  which was going to give us a great opportunity for increased awareness, visibility and market penetration in the China and Asia Pacific specialty coffee market. 

But also factory closures in China have resulted in supply chain disruptions for manufacturers in Uganda, with delays, raw material shortages, increased costs and reduced orders. With the widespread nature of the virus, it is difficult to envisage how supply chains could be adjusted rapidly to meet demands.  Any disruption in global supply chains as a result of factory closures in China has had a negative impact to small and medium enterprises in Uganda. 

These are the enterprises that trade mainly with China and are in the trade and retail sector. This sector constitutes 13% of Uganda’s economy. Nearly 20% of all the goods traded in this sector are imported from China. The main imports from China are  textiles and apparels, electronics, building and construction material, pharmaceuticals, heavy machinery, raw materials, iron and steel, as well as household consumerables.

The tourism sector has  been the one hardest hit by coronavirus as the as Government issued travel warning to people travelling to, and out of Uganda, under its policy “social distancing” in order to prevent and contain infections.

As upto then, tourism was the number one source of foreign exchange in Uganda. It constitutes 7.7 percent of the country’s GDP and employs close to 700,000 people. All these investments have been put on their knees and they reorganized, the second wave with profound impact has threatened some people to rethink investment in other sectors.

By the time of the first lockdown, Uganda was supposed to host the 3rd UN G77 and China Summit the following month, but all were suspended till todate, due to the coronavirus, with the summit projected to be a major boost to our country’s international image and tourism sector. It was expected to be attended by over 6,000 international delegates from 135 countries. Delegates were expected to discuss trade between countries, investment and humanitarian aid related issues.

We are yet to get a clear understanding of the extent of the failure of URA in meeting the targets set for financial years 2019/2020 and 2020/2021.  But, about 42% of all the tax collected in Uganda is from international trade. This tax is mainly in the form of VAT and import duty on imports, and excise duty on the importation of petroleum products. A slowdown in international trade as a result of the coronavirus surely should have had a massive negative impact to tax collections during those financial years as purchasing power has drastically dropped. 

The situation has been worsened by the reduced economic activity in the retail and trade, services, hotels, tourism and manufacturing sectors which will translate in both reduced VAT remittances and corporation tax payments to the URA.  

Government should do more in order to keep the citizens safe from this pandemic, there is need for coherent, coordinated, and credible policy responses in all the Government’s ministries, authorities and directorates, to ensure that the virus does not result into a public health and economic tragedy in our country. A stimulus package that is friendly, accessable and geared towards refilling the economic fuel, and must be open to all categories of profitable businesses and tax payers. Health care investment and support to innovation.

At the start it was lack of ambulances, ICU beds, protective gear, quarantine centres, and enough but knowledgeable staff to handle the challenge of corona virus, alot money was invested in the preparations and contributions from private corporations and citizens flooded the taskforce, others were in kind, such as food items to support the vunlreable, transport and others, however the ugly head of corruption started manifesting at all layers. 

People had to pay to get movement permits, go through the roadblock, tests, and in most cases the needy never got assisted. The failure do accountability even at district level has left Ugandans scared about the people running affairs on their behalf. 

Government has to address the issue of corruption to the core, otherwise Ugandans tend to have lost confidence in technical people placed in higher office.  Now Uganda has an all but run out of Covid-19 vaccines and oxygen as the country grapples with another wave of the pandemic, and stories come in about stolen oxygen cylinders by government workers and there seems to be no headway to account for that and eventual prosection of offenders.  

Both private and public medical facilities in the capital, Kampala and in towns across the country – including regional hubs in Entebbe, Jinja, Soroti, Gulu and Masaka have reported running out or having acute shortages of AstraZeneca vaccines and oxygen. Hospitals report they are no longer able to admit patients to intensive care. Several vaccination centres and hospitals across the country have suspended programmes, throwing into doubt efforts to vaccinate 21.9 million high-risk people. 

We need to expand equipment capacity and human resources to continue to offer these services and respond to this crisis effectively and honestly with open arms. 

Uganda received 864,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the UN’s Covax scheme, and more than 100,000 doses from the Indian government in March. At least 660,000 more doses are expected from Covax in early August. 

In Uganda, from 3 January 2020 to 5:21pm CEST, 15 June 2021, there have been 63,099 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 434 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 14 June 2021, a total of 831,213 vaccine doses have been administered.We are at war, and anybody who has been in a war state especially with such invisible enemy like COVID19, whose next attack is unpredictable knows that all weaponry is vital, a group of  eminent researchers at Mbarara University of Science and Technology MUST, have invented a herbal drug COVIDEX, claimed to cure corona, and experimented on a few people and made wonders has received unprecedented pressure to denounce it from government agencies, whose interest we don’t know. 

They claim the protocols were not followed, a laughable excuse because down town and country side is flooded with herbal medicines made from villages but not blocked, simply because they don’t threaten some people’s interests. In UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered for stock piling of vaccines even when they had not been approved or done the protocols, and it’s estimated to have over 1bn vaccine stocks. 

All countries with organized and progressive technical people are making or producing their own vaccines, Russia, China, France, German, Cuba are using their own vaccines, so one wonders what’s the agenda of NDA for it’s prompt efforts of silencing the further development of COVIDEX, our intelligence has allegedly informed us that the failure for the research team to surrender the patent to brokers under the deal to share profits, is at the disadvantage of Ugandans. 

The NRA fighters during the bush war in Luweero jungles used even spiritual fighters, even though some were unrealiable, arrows, others even entered Kampala without holding a gun but part of the fight against the government of Dr Obote. 

In this war we need all the ammunition to fight and win the battle against COVID19, NDA needs to copy from other countries on how to encourage, promote, and interest government to fund such innovations. 

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