Uganda uses recent outbreak experience to prepare for coronavirus
As the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) spreads to low-income countries including Uganda, health authorities have intensified prevention measures that have been lauded by donors and the general public. There is no confirmed case in the country so far, but the measures in place are evidence of a country that knows too-well, the social and economic consequences of disease outbreaks with epidemic potential.
Disease outbreaks not new to Uganda
Since 2018, Uganda has been in emergency mode and has had to respond to outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), Yellow Fever, Measles and Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF)— all in regular succession. At the same time, the country has been ready and constantly monitoring the EVD outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with heightened keen interest.
While this might put Uganda slightly ahead of other countries in the region in terms of readiness, authorities are not taking any chances. The Ministry of Health (MoH), with support from partners, has put in place a comprehensive response plan that is guiding ongoing preparedness activities.
Consequently, all health workers are on high alert and several health facilities have been prepared to manage expected patients. Public awareness and promotion of preventive behaviours such as regular handwashing are some of the major activities being implemented at the moment. These efforts are spearheaded by His Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta who is constantly advising Ugandans to adopt and practice proven behaviours capable of stemming the spread of the infection.
Authorities speak out
“Evidently, we have seen how fast the Coronavirus disease spreads. The general public is our most important audience right now and even though there is no confirmed case in the country, the danger remains high,” notes Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health.
When the COVID-19 outbreak was declared, the MoH National Task Force constituted a preparedness response, placing a lot of emphasis on risk communication and community engagement to promote good health practices among members of the public.
The Ministry, with support from partners, moved to protect the general public by sharing information via electronic and print media, highlighting the safest practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, MoH continues to issue weekly statements on the country’s preparedness and what the public should do to ensure that they are safe form COVID-19.
Moreover, the Ministry of Health has capitalized on the use of social media to keep the public updated in real-time and to respond to various queries. In Uganda, the use of social media has grown exponentially, with the general public relying on the different platforms to access information from government authorities including the President of Uganda, who has over a million followers on twitter.
Surveillance and early detection of suspected cases are at the core of the current interventions as well. Again, the EVD-surveillance experience at the common border with DRC is paying high dividends in these areas.
“We have been monitoring the EVD outbreak in the DRC and responding to sporadic outbreaks of Yellow Fever and CCHF in some parts of Uganda. The declaration of COVID19 is yet another test that we are going to take on firmly, and the systems are in place,” says Dr Aceng.
“While Uganda has placed restrictions on travel, we still can’t take chances and as such, every traveller accessing the country through any border is being screened,” notes the WHO Representative, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam.
Case management heightened
Preparations to test and manage cases in the event that a case is confirmed in the country have also been intensified. For instance, the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) has been equipped and prepared torun confirmatory tests in a matter of hours upon receipt of samples. In addition, Entebbe and Naguru referral hospitals have been prepared and equipped to manage COVID-19 cases.
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in various countries has brought about a lot of restrictions on travel, business and education which has disrupted economies. With almost all countries neighbouring Uganda having reported confirmed cases, it is just a matter of time for the country to follow suit. As Dr Yonas, notes, the only consolation for Uganda is that “there are experienced health workers prepared and ready to deal with the COVID19 outbreak.”
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