The Covid-19 crisis in Uganda

 

Sir, – I have been living in Uganda for 27 years and am moved to write to endorse your correspondent Sally Hayden’s article “There is nowhere I’d rather wait out coronavirus than Uganda” (World, July 6th). Yes, I have to agree that we, the privileged expats, have it good here. But there is another side to life with Covid-19 in Uganda which I think is important to highlight.

I founded Hospice Africa Uganda (HAU) in 1993. The mission of HAU is to ensure that the seriously ill have a pain free and dignified end of life, and to embed palliative care throughout Africa. We have a strong Irish connection (I trained to be a doctor in UCD) and we are registered in Ireland as Hospice Africa Ireland.

Sadly we are seeing the extreme hardships imposed on people through Covid-19 movement restrictions which are preventing the very ill, and women in labour, reaching out for help on time. The cut in transport on the roads has limited our hospice home visits. Initially there was a limit on when people could go out and people faced arrest or being beaten on the spot by the police if they breached that. Then a curfew was introduced (and is still in place) from 7pm to 6.30am, and those caught away from home are penalised.

The reality is many breadwinners have lost their jobs and social distancing is stopping them working at their trades. Families are hungry and we are worried about our 1,500 patients in the community , many who cannot come to us as outpatients, and are waiting for us to assist them with food and morphine to control their pain. We are trying our best but we are not reaching all our patients, who are suffering hunger as well as illness, even with the help from one of the banks donating food and a smaller amount donated by the Government.

HAU was already in financial difficulties due to a reduction in donor funding. Now we face added financial burdens, with costs securing personal protective equipment and food required for the hungry. We are worried that patients could die of starvation before cancer. Food and morphine for their severe pain have to now be delivered by boda boda (motorbike transport) drivers, who are allowed to carry packages but not passengers.

It is heart breaking, and I feel guilty. I had my own health emergency on June 1st when I had a fall and fractured my pelvis. I was privileged that I received wonderful treatment both in hospital and at home with the help and support of the Irish community here, and through our hospice nurses. I am 85 years old.

The outcome could have been much worse if I was an 85-year-old Ugandan.

We seem to have contained the virus to date, with positive tests mainly in people trying to enter the country. So far no deaths have been recorded. But there are certainly deaths from the restrictions. Please pray for Uganda and those suffering in the villages. I am so glad I am here. I have a lot more work to do and I must be ready to carry on. It has always been a joy to see the difference our palliative care makes, given by our dedicated nurses, and with the help and support from people in Ireland. – Yours, etc,

Prof Dr ANNE MERRIMAN, MBE, FRCPI, RCPEd

Hospice Africa Uganda,

PO Box 7757,

Kampala,

Uganda.