Our country as others is engaged in a “war” against COVID-19 pandemic which is responsible for awful time with all Ugandans sharing same appalling experience.
Before saying much, I convey my sincere approval to President Museveni and our health officers led by indomitable Minister Dr Jane Aceng, for commendable job they are doing in leading us to win this battle. Fellow citizens, let’s play our part by cooperating with them. Back to subject, no one world-wide who hasn’t felt the pinch of COVID-19.
From a pauper to world’s richest to poorest country to world’s most developed economies, are all sneezing courtesy of our common invisible enemy-COVID-19. Based on medical professionals’ scientific recommendations, almost all world leaders instituted measures mainly lockdowns whose major works either restrict or ban movements and operations of majority people wherever they are. Sane leaders have no other option, but to tell people to stay home to suppress virus’ further spread.
Affluent people including those in highest offices in various lands are affected-airlines are grounded they cannot fly out of their countries, most educational institutions are closed down, both average citizens and poor people who earn their livings from informal sectors are out-of-business.
Because most African Countries including Uganda run regressive taxation system which places the burden of paying taxes on poor rather than progressive taxation system whose rate increases as payer’s income increases, governments find themselves in a catch-22. Most of their milk-cows in informal sectors no longer work to earn and pay taxes.
Truthfully, these vulnerable poor say one common thing; “now is the time for government to put our taxes to use through sending us relief.”
Considering the chilling effects of the lockdown, Uganda government announced food distribution among vulnerable groups of Ugandans especially in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts.
I applause this gesture, but it fails to meet principles of non-discrimination and equality. In Uganda where according to 2016/17 National Household survey, 61% are in vulnerable employment with 46% of them not saving-largely because of earning little and therefore, unable to afford stop working even for a single day, authorities would be expected to devise means of serving all people’s interests.
Truthfully, COVID-19 disproportionately punches groups most affected by inequality in our country-women, persons with disabilities, children, elderly, under ‘normal’ circumstances. COVID-19 impact doubles in case of impoverished people some of whom are malnourished grappling with ailments including HIV/Aids, TB, Cancer, Malaria, Malaria, Pneumonia, Anemia, hypertension, etc whose access to health care is more limited now.
Bad as it is, I consider COVID-19 a wrapped blessing able to amplify our agitation for increased public spending in key social sectors majorly heath by government.
Granted, our resources as a country might not suffice to afford us perfect public social systems, or actually suitably handing crises like COVID-19, its bitter truth, deliberate appalling policy choices by our leaders only entrench inequality catastrophe.
In Uganda where a doctor-to-patient ratio is estimated to stand at 1:11,000 against WHO’s recommendation of 1:1000, where there is less than 200 functional ICU beds or ventilators, where Health needs Shs 1.4 trillion to build 41 hospitals for 39 districts and poor remuneration of health workers who are inadequately equipped to perform their duties, it would be unthinkable to hear that a section of leaders are turning COVID-19 into opportunity to serve their selfish interests.
Previously, over 4 million Ugandans could not afford 3 meals a day and with everyone locked at home, the number can only get worse. This is the time leaders at all levels would be engaged in creating means of saving people’s lives countrywide without discrimination in short time.
Recognizing that pandemic has exposed what many thought was hidden inequality and that its cruelty has affected us all, we ought to re-imagine a better post-Covid-19 Uganda which works for everyone. Now is the right time to use national resources to create a more equal and inclusive Uganda with functional health system, a better economy and social security scheme capable of rescuing qualifying beneficiaries in times of dire need like this.
Otherwise, dear decision-makers, no one can be comfortable in unequal society. In any case, if you are trusted with positions of power to make decisions in the interest of majority and instead use it in manner perceived to be self-centered, you cannot sleep in your luxury-fenced house with your dear ones.
Poor people who cannot adequately social distance to prevent contraction of COVID-19, because of their living conditions, will certainly, knock on your mansions in their desperate search for food and in the process, your life won’t be comfortable anymore, if at all, you manage to maintain important social distancing norm. This is not farfetched as some MPs and other leaders are grappling with overwhelming distress calls from the public.
The writer serves as Programs Manager at @equalitynow_Ug
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