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Your mail: Effective cloth masks against Covid-19

To date, the world is still grappling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic as the number of infections surge despite the aggressive lockdown measures.

Much as the measures have had a positive effect in mitigating the spread of the disease, economies have been bruised badly. Consequently, countries have moved to ease lockdown restrictions while maintaining public health measures such as social distancing, hand washing, and use of cloth masks for the general public.

The coronavirus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or breathes. Face masks play a key role in providing protection. The use of cloth face masks is now highly prevalent in the country after the presidential directive that was issued to protect the citizenry from contracting the disease. However, very little is known about how effective these masks are.

Most people think face masks work like a microscopic sieve that physically blocks airborne particles from going through the mask. Well, this is not entirely how it works.

Smaller particles, including pathogen-carrying droplets, can enter but fail to go through. This is because the mask materials are made up of entangled mats of fine fibres that create convoluted pathways, making it impossible for particles to navigate through.

This is referred to as filtration efficiency. Another form of protection is the electrostatic charge; here the smaller particles are bound onto the material like how a magnet binds to metal. These two forms of protection are measured along with the pressure drop (breathability) which refers to how comfortable it is to breathe through the mask.

The choice of cloth material determines the effectiveness of your mask.  According to research done by Yi Cui et al., cotton fabrics are the best materials for cloth masks since they have both very good protection and breathability.

Nylon has comparable protection to cotton but its breathability is rather poor. Polyester, on the other hand, has moderate protection and good breathability. Silk has the least protection but its breathability is excellent.

Avoid stigma against border people

The residents and health workers from Elegu border area recently expressed their concern over the increasing stigmatization and isolation from the locals living in the same area code. The prevalence of this stigmatization is inappropriate and shows bad conduct amongst Ugandans.

There are allegations that whenever people identify themselves as residents of Elegu, other people run away from them.  This lowers the self-esteem of the people from Elegu. We all know that with an average of 1,000 trucks entering Uganda every day, long-distance drivers are now a key source of concern for Kampala as they have proved to be the highest source of imported coronavirus-positive cases.

Why not concentrate on those instead of us becoming a threat to each other?

Many of us are aware of how to stop the spread of this virus. Our main concentration here should be on more sensitization of the general public about how to overcome this pandemic. But that won’t happen if we are fighting each other.

People were given orders to follow and they abided at first but now it’s like they are violating these orders. We were advised by the health officials that we should wear face masks but many people are not doing this. These are simple things that we need to take seriously.  

Kevin Seguya,
kelvinsegz@gmail.com

Boda boda ban should stay

Whereas boda bodas were a necessary evil in maneuvering traffic jam before the Covid-19 lockdown, they became a metaphor for crime and accidents. Audacious assassinations and robberies were carried out by people riding boda bodas. They also acted as “gangs for hire” depending on which side of the bread was buttered.

The past three months’ ban on boda bodas carrying people have been a blessing in disguise; crime has reduced and the casualty wards now receive less boda boda-related accident victims.

Natural selection has allowed the trustworthy ones to make a living through transporting luggage and forced the rest to return to their villages. Probably they will settle down and be more productive in agriculture and other enterprises.

Certain sections are inventing shields on boda bodas as a Covid-19 preventive measure. Boda bodas sticking to luggage transport remains the best option.

Andrew Kasumba,
kasumba.andrew@gmail.com

Road maintenance

The Works and Transport sector retained its lion’s share in the recently read national budget. The sector had a budget cut from Shs 6.4 trillion in financial year (FY) 2019/20 to Shs 5.8 trillion in FY 2020/21.

Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), which is responsible for developing and maintaining the national road network, will receive 59 per cent share of the sector budget. Improving the national road infrastructure is important; however, road maintenance remains an underfunded priority.

According to the ministry of Works and Transport (MoWT, 2018), Uganda has a total road network of 144,785 kilometers; 21,544km of national roads, 35,556km of district roads, 10,108km of urban roads, and 78,567km of community access roads. The budget allocation towards road maintenance has on average remained Shs 542 billion from FY 2018/19 to FY 2020/21 against the maintenance needs of Shs 1.8 trillion.

There is a funding deficit of more than Shs 1 trillion per financial year. Several roads, especially on the DUCAR network, are quite hard to navigate and district local governments are overwhelmed.

The repercussions of this situation have a ripple effect on the economy by affecting the cost of transport and access to markets. The recent heavy rains experienced across the country towards the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 washed away many roads on the DUCAR network.

These are roads which connect many communities to markets and social services like health and education. Farmers suffer losses due to delays on the road, pregnant mothers risk delivering on the way as our children may as well fail to attend school. This partly explains why some communities continue to lag behind in terms of development.

Something has to be done. Otherwise, we cannot continue to appreciate the same problem year in, year out. The government should ensure that Uganda Road Fund (URF) is run according to the URF Act (2008) by allowing it to: collect road user charge fees directly and also be able to invest excess resources in profit-generating activities to grow its capital base over time.

There is need to invest in research and development of new technology to build and maintain roads. Capacity building for district engineers should address the skills gap and reduce the cost per unit (km) output realized. Good roads enhance community development; let us prioritize them!

James Ssempijja,
jssempijja@udn.or.ug

letters@observer.ug

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