Uganda will not emulate Tanzania and Burundi by unreservedly opening up the economy and the country amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ministry of Health permanent secretary Dr Diana Atwine has said.
Medical workers in the private sector this week suggested that Uganda benchmarks in Tanzania and Burundi to see how it can open up the economy even in the face of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The president of the Society of Uganda Private Medical Practitioners Dr Lulume Bayiga said that it is going to be an uphill task to convince Ugandans that the health impact of COVID-19 is as big as earlier intimated when the country has recorded no fatalities. To date Uganda's confirmed cases stand at 848 with 780 recoveries and no deaths yet.
Lulume argued that Tanzania and Burundi have kept their economies up and running amidst the pandemic and yet no loss of lives or severely affected cases were recorded. Dr Lulume was speaking to journalists at their offices in Kawempe on Thursday.
"That we learn how to live with COVID-19 the way the people of Tanzania are living with it and we have not seen dead bodies littered all over the country, allover Lake Victoria and so on. I think the president needs to be guided in science, also to benchmark with Tanzania. President [Pombe] Magufuli has not come out to declare a quarantine, he has not declared a curfew to the people, he did not lockdown, the people have been working, children going to school." Lulume said.
Adding: "This is the East African Community, we should be seeing very many people infected with COVID-19 in Tanzania and Burundi. We should be hearing reports if at all the national media doesn’t allow people to report we should be able to at least be seeing Facebook, Twitter reporting the number of deaths in very many hospitals. So as a country we need to benchmark and see what other people have done."
However, Atwine said the perceived normality in Tanzania and Burundi amidst the pandemic is farfetched because their people are dying of coronavirus in hundreds and thousands according to information shared between health experts in the region.
Atwine said in fact Uganda's fight against coronavirus is a success story and many experts across the world are instead benchmarking here. She said despite carrying out the second most coronavirus tests in Africa, Uganda has managed to keep the infection rates low with no deaths and a high percentage of recoveries.
"What is there to learn [from Tanzania and Burundi]? Do you know thousands of people who have died just because they don’t share with you? Do you know how many thousands, thousands, were not talking about hundreds but thousands of people who have died? When you don’t declare, you’re like in the dark. How do we operate on assumption because other countries that declare we have seen. In Africa, were one of the best. Everyone around the globe, they call us to ask how we’re managing COVID. The first country that has tested more is South Africa, we’re second [in Africa] yet we have still maintained the low numbers, why? That is our strategy that is how we have kept the infections out of the country for this long. Look at those countries that relaxed, they bought even extra land for graves. Is that what we want," said Atwine.
Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli has been openly sceptical of everything pandemic-related. Even though he closed schools and banned public gatherings, the other sectors remained open, and he argued against closing churches and mosques.
Last month, Magufuli triggered conspiracy theories after he said fruits and other nonliving objects he had had secretly sent to the laboratory had come back positive for COVID-19, a move which was followed by opening up the economy, even for tourists, under normal and regular pre-COVID border rules. The last tally in Tanzania was at 509 cases and 21 deaths in early May. Burundi's cases have also been stuck at 144 cases and one death for more than 2 months now.
Burundi also downplayed COVID-19 fears by running through a campaign and holding a general election, without restrictions. The country’s leadership maintain that Burundi is a country blessed by God and therefore needed not to quake because of a virus. Former Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza's death has been attributed to coronavirus much as the official government statement said that he died of cardiac arrest.
His wife contracted the virus and was being treated in Nairobi, Kenya at the time of his death. Atwine said that those countries are deliberately hiding data related to COVID-19, a mistake that Uganda is not about to make.
Meanwhile, medical practitioners also raised an alarm over what they called a deliberate act by the government to neglect private players in the health sector amidst the COVID-19 fight. Lulume said that many of their members suffered immensely during the early months of the lockdown while the government focused on only those in public facilities.
But Atwine said that the government tried to take care of practitioners in both public and private facilities, even though the support could not cover practitioners everywhere.