There will be benefits from this pandemic — if it stays longer

Thursday July 23 2020

Uganda plays around most of the time but when pressure emerges, it springs to life and outperforms countries that have been working hard for years. Covid-19 found Uganda unprepared...we sprang into action. It was stopped in its tracks. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG


Remember that stubborn student in your school who dodged as many classes as possible but kept scoring highly in exams? They would do everything to miss class and then a few days to the exam, start scourging around for other student’s notes, read through and bang! They would make a joke of the exams, almost scoring the full marks! They made you gnash your teeth when the results came out, as you wondered why you had spent so much effort reading, sacrificing hours of sleep, only to end up scoring the same or less than the joker.

It also happens with nations.

Uganda is a case in point. Like the student who performs well under pressure of exams, Uganda also plays around most of the time but when pressure emerges, it springs to life and outperforms countries that have been working hard for years.

Take the incessant coronavirus pandemic for example. Compare to many other countries, we have neglected the health system. While most World Health Organisation member states have for years been regarding universal health insurance coverage as a right, an average Ugandan has never heard of it. Yet, we are located between Kenya and Rwanda, two countries that have put so much effort in health insurance.

An average Ugandan could even be more comfortable than their counterpart in Kenya and Rwanda — what with our nearly free food and until the land-grabbing epidemic hit us in recent years, our people had unlimited access to land anytime.

In fact, they would go to farm when in financial crisis — the last-minute effort we are talking about. When life in employment failed, the frustrated Uganda would just go, lay stake on any piece of land he found unused upcountry, and start thriving. Until quite recently.


Now after neglecting the health sector, you would have expected us to fare very badly when epidemics strike. But far from it. We rolled back HIV/Aids in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s at the time when the country was virtually broke. Our brand new president then, Yoweri Museveni, sounded the clarion call, and since there was neither money nor medicine, the situation was so dire that our people acted accordingly. HIV was halted, and the spread of the virus was reversed. Mid 1990s, we were already talking of an HIV-free generation since new infections were getting minimised and mother to child transmission was already being avoided.

Then money happened.

HIV/Aids became a big money project and all caution was thrown out of the window. The rest, as they say, is history. Around 2005, the country was being suspended from the Global Fund (for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria) which it had helped found.

Our people had stolen so much Global Fund money, and party goes on.

Fast forward to Covid-19. It found us unprepared at the beginning of the year. Government was alerted about high risk countries and people from there were treated with due suspicion. But the world’s ‘cross-roads’ airport had not been specifically named as a high risk travellers’ source. So dozens of infected people entered the country.

The careless student in us then sprang into action.

The airport and borders were closed. The ‘culprits' were traced, as were many of their contacts. A no-nonsense (initially) lockdown was declared. The coronavirus was stopped in its tracks.

And, hear this, not a single death so far!

This for a country where an average citizen doesn’t even know the concept of health insurance! Relaxation is in fact already setting in. People still wear masks but mostly as necklaces, just around their necks. The key thing about masks these days is how classy they look, not how effectively they are worn.

Government itself had vowed to urgently provide at least one proper mask for everyone, and provided billions of shilling for it, after showcasing the different contracted companies that had been certified as capable mask producers. That has somehow been forgotten, with majority of citizens not yet having seen a government mask. There certainly will be a benefit from this coronavirus if it stays around for longer. The handwashing culture and sanitisation thing is catching on irreversibly. Previously there had been some handwashing campaigns that the population ignored.

Today, every place and home you enter, you must sanitise first. Covid-19 may longer be a threat to us. But thank God, our sanitation is rising so fast, a whole set of sanitation-related diseases might soon become history.