President Yoweri Museveni has completely lockdown Uganda again to tame the country’s covid 19 positivity rate that has shot to 17 percent.
Mr Museveni has ordered all businesses to close for 42 days begining on June 18 except for factories, food markets, agriculture, banks, medical facilities, media, security, utilities (water and electricity services, telecoms etc) and retail shops in the outskirts of the city and upcountry.
Transport has also been shut down except trucks carrying cargo, tourist vehicles and those carrying patients and dead bodies. The popular boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) can only carry cargo and patients and have to stop moving by 17 hours.
Staff numbers in offices have been reduced from 30 to 10 percent especially in government departments. Schooling has been suspended indefinitely.
The second wave of covid 19 has badly rattled Uganda with some airlines like Rwandair suspending flights to and from Uganda. United Arab Emirates also banned flights coming from Uganda.
This lockdown is more or less similar to one enforced in March last year when the country was first hit by covid 19.
Museveni says the second lockdown is to make sure people stay at home and only a few movements are allowed to reduce the intensity of the spread of coronavirus to below five percent positivity rate.
“The issue is to minimise movement and only allow unavoidable movement. (Ideally)Everybody should stay home except patients,” President Museveni in a broadcast address in the evening of Friday June 18.
Cross-border movements have been stopped although Entebbe International Airport will remain open for those returning home.
Curfew time has been reviewed from 21 hours to 19 upto 5, 30 hours in the morning.
Out of 68,778 covid 19 patients 57 percent have severe or critical condition. So far 542 have died although the president estimates the number could be higher. The cases have recently been doubled in 32 days unlike in the past when they would double in 68 days.
The rapid surge is unprecedented.
The healthcare system is strained. Hospitals have run short of oxygen and bed capacity. Some people have been smuggling oxygen to use from their homes. Others are buying vaccines on the black market.
Both private and public medical facilities in the capital, Kampala and in towns across the country – including regional hubs in Entebbe, Jinja, Soroti, Gulu and Masaka – have reported running out or having acute shortages of AstraZeneca vaccines and oxygen.
Oxygen plants at various hospitals have broken down after being overstretched to operate beyond normal capacity.
Government has started appealing for oxygen supplies from neighbouring countries as the number of people in need of oxygen continues to increase at the various health facilities across the country. Hospitals report they are no longer able to admit patients to intensive care.
The lack of oxygen and beds in capacity has tempted hospitals to take advantage of desperate patients by overcharging them.
Hospitals charge between shs2m and shs5m per day to treat a critically ill patient. The patient spends 14 to 31 days in hospital depending on the severity of the disease, according to medical experts. This means a critically ill patient spends between shs62m and shs155m.
Local news reports indicate that 30 Covid-19 patients died after the oxygen supply malfunctioned at Mulago hospital on Tuesday June 15.
However, authorities at Mulago national referral hospital have installed a fifth oxygen plant to meet the increased demand.
Mr David Nuwamanya, the hospital principal administrator, said the new oxygen plant, a 70 cubic meter plant, which will provide an additional 1,600 litres of oxygen per minute, will be operational by end of next week.
Currently Mulago hospital produces 2,999 litres of oxygen per minute which is supplemented with cylinders, pushing it to 4,000 litres.
To further increase oxygen for Covid patients, Mulago has increased the number of cylinders at the facility. It has also worked out arrangements with government to import liquid oxygen. Liquefied oxygen comes in from especially Kenya then it is vaporised and turned into oxygen.
The National Enterprise Corporation, the commercial arm of Uganda’s armed forces, announced it had started the production and supply of oxygen cylinders and face masks.
Government has also run out of vaccines.
Out of the 964,000 AstraZeneca doses provided through the covax facility, 869,915 people were vaccinated, which is 90.2 per cent. The French government has donated an additional 175,200 AstraZeneca vaccines from the Covax facility, which will be used for second jabs of essential workers and the elderly.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) country representative, Dr Munir Safieldin, said another 688,800 doses will arrive in early August.
Unfortunately even the few vaccine doses available are already being stolen. During the raids conducted by police crime intelligence, more than 600 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine were recovered at First Pharmacy Mulago-Wandegeya and Victoria Pharmacy in Ntinda.
Police picked up twelve suspects. Police spokesperson Fred Enanga identified the suspects arrested from First Pharmacy as Festo, Mushabe, Deogratius Nyanzi, Nelson Cheprone, Elvis Selemba, Viola Tayemba, Julius Sekasi and Julian Nakamya.
The suspects picked up from the second raid at Victoria Pharmacy are Perez Karuhanga, Rosemary Mushabe, Linda Pragia, Martha Mutungi and Esther Kushemererwa.
But even for the available vaccines some people have been denied access because of lack of identification cards (IDs).
A recent report published by three human rights organisations indicates that up to a third of adults in Uganda have been excluded from vital healthcare and social services because they do not have national ID cards.
Women and elderly people have been particularly affected by the introduction of the digital identity cards, which are required to access government and private sector healthcare, to claim social benefits, to vote and to open bank accounts or buy sim cards.
Which means those that have covid 19 and are admitted to the intensive care unit can’t access their National Social Security Fund (NSSF) savings even though they are being encouraged to partially access their money. Without national identity cards they may have to forfeit this opportunity.
NSSF says that they have already facilitated the treatment of some members, and urge those in such situations to approach the fund.
With no any other option available most Ugandans have turned to herbs, maurijuana and self-medication to deal with the pandemic.
Many people across the country have resorted to boiling various weeds, inhaling and drinking the concoctions to boost their immunity.
The latest in use is marijuana where videos and audios have been making rounds on social media with some people claiming its leaves can cure Covid-19.
The intake of marijuana and other unknown weeds have increased cases of intoxication in various hospitals.
Dr Diana Atwiine, the Permanent Sectretary in the Ministry of Health says if this persists, intoxication and drug addicts will rise.
“They can get intoxicated with marijuana and they go into coma or get other problems. If they continue taking it, they can end up getting addicted and addiction is worse to deal with,” she says.
Cannabis induced mental illness following self-medication for COVID-19 like symptoms is likely to rise in the population.
The World Health Organization warns of a third wave of the pandemic across Africa, with 90 percent of countries likely to miss a vaccination target of at least 10 percent of their populations by September.
To close the vaccination gap the Uganda government is considering Remdesivir, an antiviral drug that directly attacks the coronavirus and hinders its ability to reproduce.
Remdesivir is an investigational drug that was first developed for Ebola but has been issued for an emergency use for the management of Covid-19 from a number of drug regulatory authorities worldwide including the US Food and Drug Administration.
The National Drug Authority (NDA) has also approved the importation and use of Remdesivir injection in the country for treatment of Covid-19 cases.
In addition, two lines of herbal treatment are being tested. COVIDEX, a herbal treatment being touted as a COVID-19 cure, awaits clinical trial.
According to a statement issued by Prof Patrick Engeu Ogwang, a lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) and founder of the drug, no clinical studies have been carried out on the drug to determine its efficacy.
According to Ogwang, the drug has only undergone laboratory tests on animals to determine active compounds and safety.
“Only a few people have used it so far to relieve their symptoms of COVID-19. More proof is needed to show it works against COVID-19. Clinical trials that prove as medicine or effective have not yet been done due to funding limitations,” Prof Ogwang said in a statement issued on Monday.
The drug is not the first that has been developed to cure COVID-19. The Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Institute is in the process of developing a COVID-19 cure, UBV-01N. So far the drug has cured 53 out of 70 people and studies are ongoing.
Five herbal therapeutics have been developed by the Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Institute to assist in the treatment and management of COVID-19 in Uganda.
The products include; Warbugia Ugandensis, Cypress oil, Cypress herbal tea, propolis tincture and propolis throat spray. Another product that has been developed is the NCRI-NP syrup that is a concentrated version of the government’s UBV-01N COVID-19 therapeutic that is still undergoing research to determine proper dosages.
The therapeutic drug, UBV-01N, developed by a think-tank of local scientists – under the Presidential Initiative on Epidemics, is the first Ugandan natural chemotherapeutic medicine to go through an international level of the clinical trial process.
According to Dr Grace Nambatya Kyeyune, a medicinal chemist and lead investigator on the COVID-19 therapeutic study, the products which have been developed using locally grown herbs have been found to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19.
President Yoweri Kaguta launched the herbal treatment as Uganda’s first clinical trials for a coronavirus drug at Mulago Hospital in Kampala.