A little over a week ago, we wrote an open letter to the government in which we expressed our solidarity with government in the fight against COVID-19, raised some areas of concern that needed urgent attention and proposed ways in which those concerns could be dealt with. Our policy throughout this process has been, and continues to be, providing constructive feedback to the government for the good of Ugandans. As a party, we believe that leadership (whether in government or opposition) requires that the people and their welfare are at the forefront of all we do. That is what politics should be about and that is what Ugandans deserve. We intend to continue to deliver this to them.
Consequently, we would like to once again, thank Ugandans for their overall adherence to the social distancing and sanitation measures that were put in place by the government. Your commitment to playing your part in this fight is not only commendable but will be the determining factor of when and how we win this battle. For the majority of the population, the children and young adults, this is the first time in your lifetime that such strict restrictions are being placed on your social and professional lives. It can be unsettling and very disruptive. As someone from a generation that has lived through similarly challenging times, let me assure you of this; even this will end. God will see us through this period and we will come out of it stronger and more united as a country.
Since our last communication, we have been pleased to note that government provided more decentralised contact numbers, announced ways in which distribution of food and relief items was to be done and has continued to update Ugandans on the status of those tested, isolated or being treated.
That said, there are urgent issues we would like to bring to the attention of the government. The first concerns our healthcare system and our readiness in case of a downturn in the spread of the pandemic. At this point, we all have to admit that our healthcare system is ill-equipped to deal with an escalated outbreak. A study by Ugandan researchers published this year showed that the country has only 12 functional Intensive Care Units (ICU) with a total of 55 beds. Ten of these were in the central region of the country and there were two ICUs that were well equipped, but not functional due to a lack of qualified personnel to run them. What this points to, is that in preparation for a case of escalated infections:
1.Government needs to put in place and communicate to the public, measures being taken to increase our ICU capacity. This means purchasing of ventilators, airway suction and monitoring equipment, building or repurposing ICU rooms either at existing healthfacilities or new one altogether. We are thankful for the field emergency hospital that has been set up by the UPDF and efforts being made at Mbarara Community Hospital. Ugandans need to know what more their government is doing in this department.
2. There is also a need to assess and make public, the country’s human resource capacity in the health sector. Purchasing equipment is only helpful if there are enough qualified personnel to use it. The question therefore is whether we have enough such specialised professionals to deal with the COVID-19 challenge? If not, what are the steps being taken to change that in the short-term? One of the immediate resources we could reach out to is the significant number of Ugandan health professionals in the diaspora who are in position to provide our frontline staff with invaluable insights into how other countries are dealing with the challenges we face. The other would be putting out a call to all retired or undeployed but qualified health workers to know how many are available and willing to step in should they be needed. Ultimately, we would need a professional team of experts to be constituted with the overall objective of advising government on the best possible ways to expand our human resource capacity in the event that there is an escalation in the number of cases.
As a party, we believe that no cost should be spared in the effort to save lives. Given the limited resources we have as a country, we call upon the government to take whatever steps are necessary, including the bold and radical reallocation of the budget so as to bolster our country’s readiness for a worst-case scenario.
There is no downside to any of these measures. If, as we all pray, the situation is contained, our country will benefit from the expanded healthcare capacity built in this time of crisis. If things do get worse, we will have an increased capacity to save lives. These proposed steps undoubtedly save lives and would be better than the alternative, which is inaction.
It is the role of Government to prepare the nation for all possible eventualities. In case that none of these suggested measures are being acted upon, then we would be highly vulnerable in a scenario where infections rise and the already strained healthcare system we have crumbles. While we hope for the best, we must as a country be fully prepared to save as many lives as possible in all potential scenarios.
The Alliance’s national leadership has over the past few days met online to firm up our contributions to the fight. As a party that recognises the Almighty God in our founding documents, we have resolved to do the following:
Galvanise Ugandans around a day of prayer once a week, every week until we get through this crisis. As a party, we have identified and set apart Wednesdays for prayer and fasting. We shall be holding prayers between 6-7pm on Wednesdays. We call upon all willing and able Ugandans (both home and abroad) to join us in national prayer from
your homes. We will specifically be praying for two things; one, that God helps bring this COVID-19 crisis to a quick end, giving us the strength and resolve to trust Him and stand united through it and second, that God provides those in government the wisdom to prepare adequately for our people and the courage to serve the nation above themselves. This effort will begin this Wednesday the 15th of April 2020.
2. Using the available technology, our party will continue to hold virtual meetings to discuss what other practical ways we can play a role in caring for the most vulnerable among us.
As always, we hope that our recommendations are received by both the public and Government as a contribution made in solidarity with fellow Ugandans. We continue to salute those that are at the forefront of keeping us safe; the medical and social services as well as security forces. We recognise our mothers and fathers that are sleeping in market places or factories, just to keep our economy running. Our young people that are adhering to the social distancing guidelines in spite of the urge to do otherwise. Every Ugandan has a role to play and so far, we have all the reasons to be proud that we are doing just that.
May God continue to watch over you all and may our tomorrow be far more glorious than our yesterday.
The author is National Coordinator of Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) Party.