CoronaUganda#2: Is the cure worse than the disease?

Tuesday, April 14, Mzee spoke, after 90 minutes of going around in circles. The government’s drastic measures are being extended for another three weeks, much to the dismay of millions of Ugandans who are wondering how they will survive, especially since the spread of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa has left the big brains gullible for the time being. While the consequences of the measures are now lethal, the virus has so far claimed no victims in Uganda and the number of official cases remains surprisingly low. It therefore seems justified to ask whether the cure might not be worse than the disease, a question to which no one, especially not us, obviously has the answer.

The African “mystery”

While a massacre in sub-Saharan Africa continues to be predicted[1], in particular because of the weakness of health systems (55 respirators in Uganda, which is indeed little for 40 million inhabitants), the curves of viral propagation remain suspiciously flat. Obviously, the few tests carried out probably do not give a perfect picture of the situation. However, if the number of infected people were far beyond the official figures, hospitals would already be overcrowded, and this is no more the case than usual. Similarly, the conspiracy theory that governments would hide the reality makes little sense.

A doctor in Gulu summed up the Ugandan situation very well in a very interesting article, which we invite you to read if you are greedy for details. Basically, even though we are still at the beginning of the epidemic, the number of cases is progressing much more slowly than expected, and no one seems to be able to say why. The author of the article reviews possible explanations, pointing out that these are only postulates with a humility that is welcome in these times of generalized expertise. From the weather to very restrictive measures taken much more quickly than in Europe, via genetics and a kind of immunity developed by eating bats being exposed to all kinds of diseases, the possible explanations are as varied as they are hypothetical.

However, there is no tangible evidence to support these lea


ds and the mystery remains for the time being. It is of course far too early to claim victory and time will probably not be long in coming to give us an answer, which of course we hope will be positive, even if we continue to expect the worst. However, if there is one thing we can be sure of, it is that the measures put in place to combat the virus are already wreaking havoc in the country.

The impact of the measures

Overnight, millions of people were left without income, or had their income drastically reduced. Already on the razor’s edge, with no possibility of savings and no social safety net, the question of how to put something on the plate soon arose. While the government has promised aid to the most vulnerable, it remains modest in relation to real needs, especially since the logistics involved in identifying and distributing this vital food make it virtually impossible to reach all those who need it. This is a huge challenge which, due to a lack of resources and already marred by sordid corruption, can only be partially met.

In Gulu, civil society is getting organized, but the bureaucratic slowne

ss is seriously hampering the efforts of the most motivated. Households panicking about not being able to survive the next few weeks are piling up. Let’s hope that the situation can be unblocked in the next few days and that the funds already raised by many people to help the most vulnerable will be able to reach their target. However, since transportation is prohibited, as is the distribution of food without the approval of the local government, the situation looks complicated to say the least.

Another disastrous effect of the measures, which has already claimed many victims in the country, is precisely the travel restrictions imposed. Many needy people have not had time to reach a health centre and without the care they needed, they have lost their life. Pregnant women are unable to reach maternity wards and give birth at the roadside. The many refugees in Uganda, already on the brink, will also suffer heavily, especially considering that food aid has recently been cut by 30% due to lack of funding. And so on and so forth.

The worst part of all this is that the local authorities do not hesitate to make a fool of themselves at the slightest opportunity. The following example, quickly reported by the Ugandan media, is proof of this. A politician in the town of Arua found nothing better than to harass a nurse and accuse her of endangering the population after she pushed a wheelchair patient who needed emergency care over 5 kilometers. While some people do not hesitate to give of themselves for the well-being of their fellow human beings, others illustrate without a moment’s rest the infinite human stupidity. It is both a sad and an encouraging picture, since power is surely not in the hands where it should be.

Nurse harassed by officials for pushing a needing patient over 5 kilometers

Do the means justify hunger?

We could go on for a long time about the actual and potential impact of the measures put in place. Just as one could go on for a long time wondering why the virus does not seem to be taking hold here as announced. Added to the fact that social distancing is a privilege of the rich (see here for a very nice article written by a partner of Eirene Switzerland on the notion of “home” in a Ugandan slum), the dilemma is very real. The reality is that the situation is so complex that no one has the miracle solution, especially not us.

For the time being, the Ugandan government seems to want to get rid of the virus completely by endangering a large part of the population. If they can hardly be blamed for doing everything possible to contain the spread of the virus, and if one is always smarter afterwards, when the time comes to take stock, it will be very difficult to know whether the victims of the current measures will have been worth it.

[1] We are going to put aside the “Democratic” Republic of Congo, which is also fighting with Ebola and a nasty measles epidemic, in addition to a long war in the East to satisfy Western and Asian greed.