Governments around the world including Uganda learnt about COVID-19 in November 2019 and it is expected that the planning for responses to the same should have started then. There could have been some planning perhaps but the way we have responded to this pandemic exposes our lack or poor planning.
There was a need to have scenarios drawn for immediate-, medium- and long-term interventions for dealing with COVID-19. We are not sure how long COVID-19 shall stay especially since it keeps mutating everyday. I am aware that we have several task forces, scientific and legal committees etc dealing with the pandemic response but the social economic aspects have largely been ignored. We have always emphasized the need for data in all spheres. For example, we are still struggling to define and identify the vulnerable persons who need urgent support. It is now 5 days since another lockdown was declared and we haven’t reached out to the vulnerable persons; one wonders how they are able to survive at this moment. COVID-19 should have found us with clear data of how many vulnerable persons we have in Uganda and also disaggregated on the level of vulnerability. How many Bodaboda cyclists do we have in Uganda and how many of those qualify as vulnerable? Where are the street beggars at this moment when the city is shut down? Where will they be found? How many salonists, janitors, shop attendants do we have? How many of these are vulnerable? Do we have this data?
Secondly, which laws are we using to enforce the new measures as by the time they were announced, we didn’t have a Minister of Health in place who by law should pass the Statutory instrument as per The Public Health Act to operationalize the presidential Directive? Are the measures going to be implemented retrospectively once the Statutory instrument comes in place? Wasn’t it better to have a Minister of Health quickly appointed so that they are able to execute the mandate? What will happen to people who have been arrested for violating new measures which are simply still a presidential speech? Again, we would have done better in planning for this. The President should come to reaffirm and speak to the Statutory instrument in place and not the other way round especially since there has always been conflict of commence date/time of the new measures.
COVID-19 continues to expose our inefficiency in terms of planning for the country and I hope we pick lessons. I am not sure whether the radios government promised learners have been distributed; same for the learning materials and other essentials. At a time when survival and education is largely by use of the internet, the government has continued to tax use of the internet instead of providing free or subsidised internet especially during this difficult time. One wonders whether we are planning for the same country! It was wrong to introduce the 12% tax on internet data yet it is the only alternative for all physical engagements; again, this indicates that the planners were in total oblivion of the COVID-19 situation.
Parliament has passed over 4 Trillion Shillings for COVID-19 response and management and yet we hear medics crying for unpaid allowances and lack of PEPs; Insufficient Oxygen, and exorbitant testing fees. Why would a Ugandan who is already affected economically have to pay close to UGX 250,000 for a COVID test? Government should subsidize this cost rather than wanting to buy new vehicles which may not be an immediate need. Our immediate need is to make it easy for communities to test, vaccinate and access medical treatment and care. Much as we all need to keep alive and not die of COVID-19, we may end up dying from hunger, debt, mental health challenges among others courtesy of poor planning and failure to prioritize needs.
We need a holistic approach while dealing with COVID-19; that life must continue even when the disease is here. It is high time we reflected strongly on our education system, perhaps redesign it according to our needs, exhaustively revise and replan our medical emergency response mechanisms as well the general medicare, regulate private medical fees and costs among others. It is also high time we we reviewed the operations of all the sectors to ensure they are resilient and can withstand any other major interruption even after COVID-19. We should be picking lessons from this pandemic to build a more resilience strategy for the country for similar pandemics and crises that may befall us in the future.
I call upon the government to ensure maximum engagement of all stakeholders while taking on various plans and interventions for the COVID-19 response, planning for and without the people may not achieve much especially where this time requires stronger social will from the general public. Let us not only aim at beating COVID-19 but also poverty, debt, hunger, illiteracy and abuse of human rights.
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