By Jean Gatera
Uganda’s health sector has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and, “despite the rosy official statistics the situation has been bad,” sources in the medical professions have said. But from the start of the pandemic, health experts say, Uganda’s healthcare system was already “in a dilapidated state” and that the added strain is leading to an imminent collapse, according to the experts.
It is a situation such as was captured last month when Covid-19 patient Mary Aryona in June this year posted a video on WhatsApp from Masaka hospital where she was suffering with very many other people. The video showed a very dilapidated, overcrowded ward where according to Aryona, “there is just no care.” She said doctors rarely came, and when they do, it is just to drop medications that have no name of labels. The hospital is so crowded that patients are forced to sleep on dirty floors, many even next to the mortuary.”
The Reuters news agency said similar things in a report late last week. “The Ugandan health sector is crumbling. Public hospitals are affected by doctor strikes and corruption scandals,” Reuters said. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, international reports about Uganda’s response have consistently been of such things as shortages of beds, personal protection equipment, testing kits, and data manipulation. “To say that things have been chaotic here in Kampala is an understatement”, a source in from a hospital in the Ugandan capital told us.
“To make matters worse, most measures taken have ended up causing even more harm,” he said, also mentioning a July article by the BBC titled, “Uganda, where security forces may be more deadly than coronavirus.” The report detailed 12 deaths related to police brutality in the name of Covid-19 preventions.
Our source, the Kampala-based doctor, considers himself lucky as, “counterparts upcountry had even more serious challenges.” He points out that in referral hospitals like Arua, in northern Uganda, long ago ran out of PPEs (Personal Protection Equipment). Doctors and nurses are left with very difficult choices,” he added. Local media in Kampala have quoted medics that for instance resort to usage of overalls – “as if they are mechanics,” one said – due to dire lack of the disposable gowns.
Faced with shortages of hospital beds, the Ugandan government had announced that it would convert a stadium into a COVID-19 treatment centers. The Ugandan Health Ministry Permanent Secretary announced the plan to a parliamentary committee in April.
But plans for the conversion quickly ran into issues, according to a source in the Ministry. “The initial plan was for 4000 beds, but now the new target is for 1200 beds for the stadium. Corruption allegedly is responsible for this drastic reduction, with the resources allocated for the other 2800 beds already having been ‘eaten’, it is said.
“The Covid-19 has simply exposed, to an enhanced degree, the long-standing structural weakness in the Ugandan health sector,” said our source. But to present a different face to the world, he said, “Ugandan officials have been manipulating data.” As a simple example he reminds this website of the case this this May when health ministry officials were instructed to reduce the numbers of those infected by the Coronavirus. It was said that a decision had been taken “to remove foreigners from the count.”
These and many other gimmicks are how they fiddle with figures “to keep the numbers misleadingly low,” our source concluded.