We need a rational response to Corona virus in Uganda

The COVID 19 virus has inspired global panic. Hollywood movies have exploited the deep-seated fear we have that one day a disease could threaten humanity, and COVID-19 has the virulence to match some of these paranoid tales. People’s responses to this actual threat are based on paranoia than rational thought. There are young healthy people isolating themselves from everyone in fear of death. Stories of new deaths happening on the other side of the globe cause us to assume the grim reaper is outside our own doors.

What is the actual risk? And if we understand this, what is a reasonable and rational response as individuals, communities and as a nation?

It should be understood there are 2 things to consider. Current risk, and potential risk. At the time of writing this I have known people in self-imposed lockdown for weeks, but what is the actual risk they are hiding from? Let’s do some maths. There are currently around 780,000 known COVID19 cases worldwide. There are around 7,800,000,000 people worldwide. That’s only 0.01% of the world population known to have the disease, and in Uganda, that figure is almost certainly much lower than this.

Tragically we have seen 36,000 deaths from Coronavirus worldwide. It’s a big number, but a tiny percentage of the world’s population and the vast majority of these were old people - our demographic is of a very young population. And consider the number of deaths from much more common diseases, ones we are currently far more likely to encounter in Uganda. WHO reported an estimated 228 million cases, and 405,000 global deaths from malaria in 2018 alone, most of whom were children, most of which were in sub-Saharan Africa. Compare this to the 36,000 total deaths from Coronavirus worldwide.

So why the panic? Until Museveni effectively banned all vehicles on the road we were more likely to get run over or die in a car crash than contract the disease, let alone die from it. The concern is not the current threat, but the potential such a virulent disease may have to spread and for these numbers described to increase exponentially. A young person may have a negligible risk of becoming seriously ill from the disease, but passing it to a Jaja could be fatal. Moving between borders could take the disease into a new nation. It needs to be taken seriously.

In the UK the strategy is to slow the spread with lockdown measures such that deaths are minimized until a vaccine is found, and to reduce the strain on the health service so that it is not overwhelmed. The strategy makes sense in the UK. Coronavirus represents one of the most significant potential health threats the nation is currently facing.

But is Uganda correct in taking our cue from the west in this instance? Coronavirus is not the biggest threat facing our health service. Malaria, TB, HIV have not gone away. We have stopped people from being able to travel. What happens if a child gets sick with malaria today? Isn’t there a very real risk that the parents will not be able to get that child to treatment? There is a very real danger of these lockdown measures being a direct cause of death for a child in that situation. Add to this the huge impact on those already affected by poverty. How does a laborer who is paid daily feed his family if he is unable to get to work? In the UK no one will die from starvation due to their lockdown, and those who can’t work are still being guaranteed 80% of their income by the government. Clearly no such support is possible from the Ugandan government, and people do already die from poverty here. And God helps any mother who is expecting a new arrival soon.

The response considers the pandemic as the only factor to address and ignores all other current and potential threats. We need to be responsible as global citizens to control this disease. Sensible measures, of course, need to be taken; keep social distancing, stay home when you can, close places of worship, even schools, keep borders locked down, wash hands. But those measures that negatively impact our economy or access to health services, and which put the most vulnerable at the greatest risk are dangerous and should be reconsidered urgently.

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