Museveni’s obsession with “few” COVID-19 cases is a time bomb
By Moses Ssejjoba
A statement made rounds earlier this week in which a hospital in Northern Uganda reported the deaths of two people apparently by the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19. The statement was from St Mary’s Hospital Lacor, a privately run facility located in Gulu and operated by missionaries of the Catholic Church.
“During the course of last week, we received three patients that presented signs of COVID-19…unfortunately, two of them passed away on Sunday and were referrals from neighbouring health facilities,” reads part of the letter dated April 27.
The hospital says the two patients had been isolated by the time they died. “The reasons we isolated them is that besides other underlying conditions, they met all the criteria by the Ministry of Health for COVID-19,” the statement from the hospital asserted. There have been several reports of people dying in the different, poorly equipped hospitals over what many medics there have concluded was COVID-19.
Yet the government has only tried to keep a lid on such reports. Just like in the case of all other reports, there was no official response from the Ministry of Health regarding the Gulu incident. This further fuels uncertainly regarding where we are going in terms of the fight against this pandemic.
Not even Museveni, during his comical COVID-19 briefing has he made any reference to such cases. This continuous practice of cover-ups by managers of Uganda’s health system, according to experts, will only lead to further spread of the virus among the communities.
“What I have seen during these past few months is the obsession by our officials, right from President Museveni, to remain in the public eye as the country that reported few cases,” said an epidemiologist that is among the front line staff in the fight against the pandemic.
According to the medic, who requested anonymity so as to talk freely, this can be catastrophic for any epidemic, let alone one of such proportions as the coronavirus. He added that the continued cover-up has manifested in very many forms; be it on the number of the positively identified cases, or the number of tests done, to mention just a few.
Others decry the consideration of political interest over public safety, and over science, things that have been a major impediment in the war against this highly dangerous pandemic. “We get these alerts and communicate to our superiors because we all agreed on a systematic communication channel.
“But when they go to the media our political leaders give totally different numbers and this has scientists very frustrated,” said our source.
The expert added: “but the thing with science is that you can never cover it up for ever, it comes back to bite you and sadly in our circumstances it may come at a great cost!”
The obsession that Ugandan political leaders have with presenting low figures to the world is that the fraudulent effort has overshadowed the whole response effort despite the selflessness of the frontline workers that are even risking their lives working without personal protective equipment.
This same attitude can also be attributable to Uganda’s recent acts when – against World Health Organisation guidelines and all dictates of good neighborliness – Ugandan authorities decided to send back truck drivers from Kenya and Tanzania after they tested positive for Covid-19. The right thing would be to isolate and quarantine them in humane conditions to avoid further spread.
The drivers had undergone a test upon entry at Malaba border with Uganda.
An article in The East African quoted a statement signed on 20 April by Uganda’s Director General of Health Services, Dr. Henry Mwebesa that said in part: “a male Kenyan truck driver, aged 27, was found positive among 372 truck drivers tested yesterday. His sample was also collected at Malaba entry point. Arrangements are being made to return him to Kenya for treatment.”
Many more truckers from the Tanzania border of Mutukula were later sent back.
Both WHO and the East African Community (during a recent meeting by ministers of health of the regional bloc), called for inter-state collaboration in the fight against this virus that knows no borders. But Museveni and his political cronies are ready to do anything to dishonestly keep the numbers down, thinking that is impressing the International Community. Even to the detriment of Ugandans, commentators observe.
“It is not just about exposing the drivers to more risk of having to drive back while sick, but also a great risk of exposure to the communities where they pass going back to their respective domiciles,” said another medical professional.