Ugandan scientists on the COVID-19 task force are investigating a sudden and unexpected drop in the number of positive infections in the country.
For the last two weeks, results released by the Health ministry have shown a drop in the number of positive cases reported across the country.
From January 14th to 19th, the number of new infections reported are in two digits - a contrast from the three-digit numbers the country was used to in previous weeks. From tests conducted on January 26, the ministry announced 53 new cases. The previous day there 73 new cases with zero deaths. From the January 24 tests, 39 new cases were confirmed while on 105 and 109 new cases were confirmed from tests conducted on January 23 and January 22 respectively. Between January 13 to 19 January 2021, at least 543 new cases were confirmed.
With no clear explanation as to what could have led to the decrease in reported positive cases, epidemiologist says they want to carry out investigations and get to the root cause. On January 27, the ministry announced 110 new COVID-19 infections, rising the cumulative infection total cases to 39,424 as of January 29, 2020. The drop in the infections has also coincided with a drop in COVID-19 deaths that currently stand at a cumulative total of 318.
Dr Misaki Wayengera, the chairman of the COVID-19 scientific committee says they are trying to find out what the decrease in reported numbers means.
"We have taken note of this decrease and we want to see what might be responsible for it," he said.
When asked whether the decrease might be related to a decrease in infections being registered in the country, Dr Monica Musenero, a senior presidential advisor on epidemics says while this would be good news, it is highly unlikely.
"We have seen the number going down. We’re no longer going to test when people call us to alert us but people go to stationary places, we don’t know. We started noticing the drop during that week after elections… of course, it will be great news if the cases are going down but we also don’t want to assume when the cases are actually an artefact because people are not getting tested," said Musenero.
Given the high degree of COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) complacency seen during the just concluded campaigns and elections, Musenero says the country should be experiencing a hike in the number of reported cases and not a decrease.
The decrease in positive cases correlates with a decrease in the number of people testing for the disease. Between October and December 2020, at the height of the political season, an average of 2,000 tests were being carried out every day. Since January 15, 2021, however this number has reduced to 1,000 tests carried out on average every day.
Early this month, the director-general of Health Services at the Health ministry intimated that the country was facing a looming shortage of test kits which would affect the number of tests carried out in a day.
Musenero attributes the decrease in testing to a decline in demand for the tests. She says people are not as eager as they were to find out their status.
"Around that time we noticed the number of people testing had gone up. Some people were testing because they had to meet the president but there was a spike also from politicians who were testing because they were meeting many people and they wanted to be sure of their status. They were concerned about their lives. But this drop might also be caused by the January effect where many people are broke and cannot afford testing now," she added.