First and foremost, we want to extend our deepest hope that you and your loved ones are keeping safe and healthy. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to cause uncertainty throughout our communities. We are continuing to monitor the outbreak of COVID-19, both domestically and in Uganda. For those who have reached out with your willingness to help, we are so grateful. We will be sharing opportunities for you to assist in protecting our healthcare workers and the communities we provide lifesaving services to. Right now it's day by day, hour by hour, and by the time you read this blog post, circumstances will have already changed. We are happy to report that, both, our local and Ugandan staff are healthy, safe, and quarantined at home. Team members are working diligently by phone and laptop to maintain communication, keep clinical operations running, and keep our stakeholders up to date on ETH’s latest progress and response to the pandemic. You may be asking, how is Empower Through Health holding up? We are open. ETH is continuing normal operations in the village of Mpunde, keeping the health center up and running and attending to the health needs of 70,000 individuals and 54 villages. We are continuing to do everything we can to continue providing the care our patients need most and to keep our staff safe and healthy. Like throughout most of Africa, disparities persist. This pandemic will emphasize inequality and disparities in social and economic factors worldwide. We believe, now, more than ever is the time to highlight and bring attention to global health disparities and realities. Like other nations, Uganda is desperately struggling to meet the basic personal protective needs of healthcare workers on the frontlines. The shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) is endangering healthcare workers worldwide, states the WHO (2020). There are extensive shortages of basic protective supplies such as gloves, medical and surgical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons. Prices for PPE have surged since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made several recent revisions in recommendations for appropriate PPE for healthcare workers and the public, which have created confusion and added stress in already demanding circumstances. It is important to note, there is still much to learn about the newly emerged COVID-19, including how and how easily it spreads. Science takes time. Over these next few months, we plan to discuss and bring light to these often neglected global health and economic conditions that exist in low- middle - income countries, like Uganda. Although oceans apart, we are inextricably connected.
Status of the Coronavirus Crisis in Uganda
As of March 21, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Uganda. By today, April 8th, 2020, 53 cases have been confirmed.
Uganda has announced the closure of its international airport, as well as the closure of all land borders. Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from 60 countries around the world, including Uganda. All schools have closed and children have been sent to quarantine in their homes, most of which do not have the resources to continue their education. Public transportation has come to an abrupt halt, including the boda bodas (motorcycles) and matatus (taxi buses) that are the lifeline of many Ugandans. At this time, the use of personal transportation is banned, all non-food businesses are closed, and a national curfew is in place from 7 pm until daylight hours, among other restrictions. Freight and cargo transportation are exempt from the ban, including the use of boda bodas and smaller trucks that are operating only to transport goods, not passengers (U.S. Embassy Kampala, 2020).
On March 26, 2020, Ugandan authorities used gunfire to enforce the closure of shops selling non-food goods to comply with President Museveni’s prohibition on such sales in attempts to enforce social distancing in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19. Looting of pickup trucks transporting goods has also been reported. As local businesses scale back operations, many employers and employees may find themselves in increasingly dire financial situations due to loss of income. Some may turn to criminal activity to obtain funds to purchase food and other items. There could be a significant increase in crime and that criminal activity may increase, potentially easing only when the government ban on public transportation and business operations is lifted (U.S. Embassy Kampala, 2020).
Furthermore, COVID-19 cases in Uganda continue to increase daily, with the most up-to-date statistics here. It is important to note that these numbers are an underestimation of cases and confirmed deaths, as testing is currently available in a limited capacity, only in urban areas, and there is growing fear of testing positive and being put in isolation without food or treatment. This situation is further exacerbated by the startling statistic of 1 ICU bed per 1 million citizens. Research conducted in 2019 shows Uganda has only 55 intensive care beds in the 12 intensive care units that are operational, revealing the limited accessibility to critical care services.
Essential non-food businesses, such as pharmacies, remain open. However, Ugandans are afraid and are up against incredibly tough circumstances, including the lack of reliable information, the ability to decipher misinformation, living pocket-to-mouth, obtaining basic supplies like soap or food, and just trying to survive another day.
How You Can Help
It is important that we are and remain practical about the current and changing situation. We acknowledge and recognize individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities here in the US are also facing significant challenges.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought to light the underlying problems in the US healthcare and public health system. Before the outbreak, the US healthcare system was already struggling to meet the basic health needs of Americans to provide affordable, equitable care, and address health disparities experienced by African-Americans and other vulnerable and marginalized individuals and groups. Recent data is showing African Americans are dying at disproportionate rates from the Coronavirus.
During this pandemic, we see disparities and hardship for those who:
Do not have paid sick leave
Do not qualify for unemployment
Do not have adequate resources to work and/or learn from home
Do not have reliable transportation to obtain essential goods, such as food
Do not have a safe place to quarantine or isolate (victims of domestic violence)
Do not have adequate child care or help at home
With that in mind, if you are in a financial position and have the room in your budget to donate, ETH will be hosting a virtual fundraiser to provide the critical resources and preparations to handle the COVID-19 pandemic as it expands throughout Uganda and to Mpunde Health Center.
This fundraiser will function as to:
Obtain critical and essential PPE for Mpunde Health Center staff and Village Health Teams (VHTs) who are on the frontlines of this pandemic.
Keep operations going at Mpunde Health Center. We are preparing for an influx of patients as the outbreak progresses and spreads throughout Uganda. We will be expecting more patients to present with illness and injury, who will need treatment irrespective of their ability to pay.
Implement community training programs carried out by VHTs on how to keep safe and disseminating educational posters throughout the communities and health centers in the district where the government is lagging behind.
Implement simple and lifesaving hand washing & social distancing interventions at boreholes.
Provide food aid for those locked in slums.
Not tech savvy and still want to make a donation? Just click here! This link will direct you to our donation page.
Please stay safe and embrace each other during this time of slowing down and as we adapt to a new normal. We thank you for reading and your ongoing support to Empower Through Health.