Nairobi, Kenya 16th June, 2021– The recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Uganda which have led to a 42-days lockdown in the country has been due to schools opening and abandonment of COVID-19 standard operating procedures.
Dr. Monica Musenero Masanza, the Senior Presidential Advisor on epidemics and one of the key players in Uganda’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said this while addressing the press during a virtual briefing held by Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC).
“Last year, we made a decision to allow staggered and partial opening of schools, we opened schools and allowed especially candidate classes across all levels to go back to school. As we went on, I think we slowed a bit on surveillance in what was going on in the schools and many more students came into the school system than we had allowed,” she explained.
“So we started observing clusters and seeing students who shouldn’t be in school already in school. We had more congestion in schools than had been allowed. The school system across the board, became a distribution centre.”
The Senior Presidential Advisor, also noted that there were clusters of the community especially, young corporates aged 25 years to 45 years working in the banks, government and business offices, that chose to abandon the standard operating procedures and engaged in some specific super spreader activities.
Dr. Masanza, the newly appointed Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation in the Office of the President, added that these categories of people are the ones dominating the hospitals with critical and severe cases. The spillover effect has been high admissions of children suffering from COVID-19, since the most affected groups have young families.
There have been more than 65, 000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and over 500 deaths since the pandemic began in the country, according to the Ministry of Health.
The Senior Presidential Advisor admits that some of the deaths from COVID-19 do not make it to the database of the country’s Ministry of Health thus, there might be imparity in the numbers.
“When individuals die when they are tested and they are under home care or in private facilities, the information does not automatically trickle to the database,” she said, adding that the Ministry of Health reports what is in the database.
Uganda has managed to vaccinate a paltry 800,000 people (less than 1 % of the population estimated to be 44.27m). Like most countries in the region, such as Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the vaccination drive was marred by high levels of vaccine hesitancy among the population, including teachers.
“Teachers were among the priority group for vaccination during the first batch of the vaccine. However, vaccine hesitancy initially led to delays of uptake among them,” said Dr. Masanza. “By the time they picked up, the vaccination was open to other groups, many teachers have not been vaccinated.”
As a result, the government of Uganda has made it mandatory for teachers to present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate for them to continue teaching.
With the country facing a mixture of variants including the Kampala, Delta and Beta variants, there are efforts including working with the private sector to obtain vaccines, Dr. Masanza said, noting that despite the increased demand for vaccination, the government will prioritize the people who have been given the first jab.
“We are seeking more Astrazeneca vaccine for people to complete their doses,” she said, adding that for those who have not been vaccinated, besides Astrazeneca, they are considering Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sputnik and Chinese vaccines but they are monitoring which is suitable for their population.
Some of the measures the Ugandan government has put in place to contain the COVID-19 situation include: banning mass gatherings, school closures, restriction of movements from one district to another, reduction of office carrying capacities, strict observance of the COVID-19 standard operating procedures.
“There has also been a serious review of the medical interventions to make sure that there is testing and early identification of cases. There is enhanced effort to ensure that all districts have enhanced capacity to detect cases and respond,” she said.
The country is currently scaling up hospital capacity by putting up auxiliary facilities to manage overflow. For example, turning stadia and tents into makeshift hospitals. Home-based care package is also being reviewed to ensure strict adherence to the guidelines, the Minister said.
The government is also sourcing for oxygen, oxygen boosting cylinders, production and supply systems from local stakeholders (including the private sector) and neighbouring countries, she added.
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