The Covid-19 pandemic reminds everyone that under-investment in public health of one country is a threat to global health security everywhere.
For decades, we built much-needed and successful vertical programs with robust global governance centred around key attributes of the HIV/Aids response.
For the Ugandan case, the pandemic should not necessarily become a panic button but a beacon of hope about what the future might contain. As earlier stated, Covid-19 has exposed our fragility, but also at the same time, it has opened our eyes to our potential.
It is my averment that if the period is studied carefully, we can build and prepare for more uncertain futures. It is time to stop bragging about having ‘led the Ugandans in war…having defeated Ebola’ and we had better start ‘cleaning our mess.’
Therefore, below are my takes for the Covid-19; and they are expressions of how I think we can prepare for a better future:
INCREASE BUDGETARY ALLOCATION TO HEALTH MINISTRY
My submission earlier was to the effect that a health threat in one poorly managed country can spill over to the rest of the world and cause havoc. Surely, Uganda should not become the hub for the next pandemic because of the inefficient health ministry at hand.
It is on record that Uganda has actually not met the 15% budgetary allocation to the health ministry, as agreed by the African countries in the Abuja Declaration, 2001. This paints a bad image, and creates doubt as to whether we can be able to handle any more serious threats.
Lack of deaths occasioned by the pandemic in Uganda does not mean that all is well, because the beauty exhibited by the outer layer of the mango does not stop it from rotting from within. Do not be deceived.
In the recently read-out budget, it was expected of the government to give a fair share of the funds to the health ministry; unfortunately, little concern was extended to the same.
It, therefore, informs my opinion that either the government is adamantly not concerned about improving the health conditions of the citizens or it basically despises the citizenry, because if you cannot be moved by the pandemic to cause a better financial allocation to the ministry, then when will you ever consider financing it better?
Ugandans deserve better; there is need to upgrade and stock the hospitals first, before creating more districts. What is the importance of ‘classified expenditures’ when people are out there suffering and, surely, they will continue to suffer; unless our priorities as a country are set right and people-centered.
INVESTING MORE INTO SCIENCE AND RELATED RESEARCH
The wake-up call offered by Covid-19 is still ringing. At least for Uganda, there is Makerere University and Mbarara University of Science and Technology, which have tangible research results.
There are equally many other institutions that are capable of undertaking research-related issues in the field of science and technology. Largely still, there are individuals that are interested in conducting research in the above fields.
Unfortunately, the above institutions and persons are limited insofar as funding and facilitations are concerned. Worst of all, the independent researchers that come up with innovative ideas are ignored by the government; if not arrested for ‘alarming the public’ by their ideas.
This conduct of the state towards researchers should actually change; the government should actually embrace research with a positive attitude.
Arresting the ‘researchers’ scares away many potential innovators. There is, therefore, need to boost research in the field of science and technology, because these two ‘are now the bedrocks of survival’ in the post-Covid-19 life.
INVESTING MORE IN ICT
Not so many moons ago, the government promised to provide Ugandans with ‘free internet,’ unfortunately, up to this date, Ugandans have never used ‘free internet’ but to be slapped with internet [social media] tax. Additionally, it is still illegal/prohibited to own a phone while in the primary, secondary schools.
The notion is that these devices distort learners’ attention; but here we are with an era that requires ICT and knowledge of computer studies in order to [almost] stay afloat. The contestation against ‘scientific election campaigns’ is an outward expression of how people have a computer literacy deficit.
The ‘new normal’ has cornered and brought to life the aspect of e-learning, and basically remote operations. However, the same is impeded by lack of internet connectivity and penetration throughout the country.
Internet penetration deficit is basically due to the poverty levels amongst the people, who thereby see it as a luxury; but the time is now, the time is ripe for digital transformation. Is Uganda ready for this era when it has not yet availed the Ugandans with the free internet? It is time to get serious in our endeavours; let us put jokes aside.
MORE FUNDING TO AGRICULTURE
One of the ‘longest-serving’ statements in the academia especially in the lower institutions of learning is that ‘agriculture is the backbone of Uganda.’
Indeed, the sector has more than 60% of the Ugandans engaging in its activities, and contributes 22% to the GDP, on top of employing [actively] more than 30% of Ugandans.
Unfortunately, Uganda’s agricultural sector is still dominated by subsistence farming, and majority of the farmers operate on small scale. Such a sector that employs majority of the Ugandans, and on whose existence they depend, is rewarded by meagre budgetary allocations.
The sector receives budgetary allocations as if it is a donation, this is unfortunate. It was so unfortunate that Uganda sought for food [donations], this should have come from the internal food basket, had there been in place a better agricultural policy that caters for modernisation and mechanisation of agriculture so as to sustain the ever increasing population.
STIMULUS AND SOCIAL SECURITY PACKAGES
The recent scuffle that was witnessed in the media over the ‘pay or not’ discussion concerning the move to have the members of the public access their NSSF Savings, and the opposition fronted by the NSSF Ed citing legal limitations was justified but indicative of the fact that ‘there is something’ fundamentally wrong with our social security benefits.
We can no more rely on legal obstacles as a justification for our inactions; however, there is need to enact new legal provisions that cater for certain eventualities which seem unforeseeable.
The laws providing for social security should be flexible, so as to allow for managing at least the uncertainties that might have not been envisaged at the time of drafting.
There is need to capitalise the emergency fund, and make sure that in case such uncertainties happen, there is at least a shock absorber. This equally means that we have to work on our ‘feeding habits’ and stop extending our jaws to the money kept for emergencies. For that I mean, we need to fight corruption in all its forms.
The Covid-19 pandemic is still here, WHO is issuing warnings about ‘another wave.’
My prayers are that we get spared by whatever wave there might be because should our health system get overwhelmed with the effects of the pandemic, it will break.
We have taken in a lot of blows than we can imagine. Yes, we should commend the ministry for the job being done so far, but equally the public needs to stay awake to the Covid-19 regulations. Should we become complacent, we shall have ourselves to blame.
Covid-19 is a wake-up call to everyone. It is time to know what matters most, it is time to know that things can get worse, that one time you may not need to expect a salary; but depend on your savings. If the government does not learn from this Covid-19 experience, at least you [the reader] should learn from it.
By now, you should be prepared for what the future might throw at you. Yes, it is good to eat as if there is no tomorrow, but better to eat today’s meal and spare something, in case tomorrow comes; if it is not eaten by you, at least those who will survive you won’t have reason to complain.
The author is a legal scholar