Sources from the Health ministry attributed the lack of PPE to global shortages increased global demand and ensuing constrained supply of critical logistics for COVID-19. There is growing demand world over for gloves, surgical masks, surgical N96 respirators, face shields, protective gear and test kit.
“The available stock of PPE and testing commodities at hand in Uganda is critically low and cannot last more than three months. What we have now can only last one month at the most," the source told URN.
As a result of the shortage, medical teams across the country have threatened to strike if they are not given PPE. Doctors from the Eastern branch of Uganda Medical Association located in Jinja said their strike will start tomorrow, Thursday, according to Dr Mukuzi Muhereza, the secretary-general of Uganda Medical Association.
"There is a dire need of PPEs allover the country. Today, I called all the branches, the 14 of them and it is only one branch that stated that they have adequate supply. They were telling me that lower facilities did not have adequate PPEs. I want to remind Ugandans that a sick health worker is a liability to himself, to his family and his country and in fact, they might end up being a reservoir of infection. We have informed our members to protect themselves," said Muhereza.
While addressing journalists today, the permanent secretary of ministry of Health Dr Diana Atwine, advised health workers to start using re-washable masks as a way to deal with the shortages and prices associated with medical masks. On the open market, disposable medical masks cost Shs 4,000, while the N95 respirators cost Shs 25,000.
“Those masks are very important. Another alternative that can be used are the re-washable masks,” Dr Atwine said.
In addition to the lack of PPEs, reports from the Health ministry officials show that the country is also facing a lack of testing material. Last week, Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute revealed that the country had run out of test kits. At the time, the available kits would only last for four days with an average of 2,000 tests being carried out on a daily basis.
Prof Kaleebu says that with the shortage of SARS-Cov-2 RT-PCR test kits, the country has resorted to using GeneXpert machines that are usually used for testing Tuberculosis. The new tests will also give quicker results.
“We are now going to use GeneXpert machines to test. All we have to do is modernize the cartridge to be able to test for the machine. The machine releases results within one hour,” Prof Kaleebu said.
According to the Health ministry, the country has received donations of 15,000 GeneXpert test kits that will be used as they procure for other kits and PPEs.
Atek Kagirita, the COVID-19 Incident commander at the Health ministry says that test kits and PPE orders have been made and will be delivered anytime.
“The government has been very supportive. We have made orders and are waiting for them to be delivered. Anytime from now, we shall have what we ordered for,” Kagirirta said.
At the moment, on average 1,500 tests are carried out on a daily basis, the majority of them going towards testing truck drivers. Uganda has so far confirmed 126 cases of COVID-19.
The donation included 1500 boxes of gloves, 4200 boxes of N95 masks, overalls, pullover hoods, respirators and face shields. Receiving the items, Dr Atwine said the donation is a huge boost to the Covid-19 fight since they are already challenged by global PPE shortages.
Atwine said the ministry have already sent out food and medical supplies to different hospitals across the country, especially the border districts, which still have a big risk of infection owing to the fact that truck drivers who ply the region continue testing positive.
Apart from the medical supplies, hospitals also received items such as sugar, wheat flour, soap and detergents meant for use by patients and relatives of health workers that are currently quarantined together with COVID-19 patients who will not go home until they are tested and confirmed to be free from the virus.