My experience with the COVID-19 outbreak in Uganda
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/04/my-experience-with-the-covid-19-outbreak-in-uganda/
By Douglas Olum
I wish COVID-19 had consulted me before breaking out in Uganda. At the time it came, I was at a near zero financial balance. As the virus label moved from an epidemic to, by late January 2020, a pandemic, I knew this meant worldwide and my country was likely not to be untouched. With a wife and two children to provide for, I worried about how I would save my family from starvation should our Government order a lockdown to keep us from working and traveling to the store.
When? I didn’t know.
I had spent the whole of February attending lectures for my MA program at Uganda Christian University. Within that time, I had not contributed any stories for the Uganda Partners organization, which is my main source of finances. My car selling business also had gone down since December 2019, when I made a commission on the last sale. I had spent weeks since the beginning of March, trekking between Kampala and Mukono, trying to revive the business. I had a few cars at hand for sale, with a few promises from prospective customers but none was materializing.
On Saturday, March 21, Uganda announced in her first case of the coronavirus infection. The victim was a 36-year-old businessman who had returned from a three-day trip to Dubai in the United Arabs Emirates.
I anticipated very tough times ahead if the numbers of identified cases increased. I thought that if I could just sell one car for a dealer, I would use the money to transport my wife and children from our apartment in Mukono to my village of Gulu in the far north. Personally, I couldn’t go because I had periodical course assignments to do and submit until late June. I knew that going to the village – far away from electricity and Internet access – would hinder my studies. Besides, I still felt we might avoid being swept deeper into the pandemic.
My confidence was rooted as far back as the year 2000 when Ebola first hit northern Uganda. Christ the King Demonstration Primary School, where I studied back then, was among the first institutions to be affected. One of our teachers contracted the virus disease and succumbed to it within the first four days. The Government moved to close schools only after his death. But none of us was ever infected.
My home 20 years ago was located near Lacor Hospital, a private hospital in Gulu that handled most of the Ebola cases. Many of our neighbors worked there to take care of the victims. Our market and public transports remained functional. We interacted without being distanced and without negative consequences. Thinking of that earlier survival time that was not as life changing as the COVID-19 restrictions, I was not discouraged.
Even when I had heard of death cases in China, Italy and Spain, I had the impression that the COVID-19 infection was not as dangerous as the Ebola that took a life in less than 72 hours.
When a Norwegian newspaper/magazine journalism friend asked me to accompany her in collecting data for a story she wanted to do about the COVID-19 situation in Uganda, I didn’t hesitate even though we planned to work in the business hubs in Kampala. We were supposed to carry out the survey on a Monday. But a cough and cold hit her, necessitating postponement. While I was a bit anxious, she assured me that her condition was not the coronavirus because she had largely been at home, with very minimal trips to buy groceries and no contact with any person who had just entered or returned to the country. We ire-scheduled our work for the next day, Tuesday, March 24th.
As I travelled to Kampala that hot, sunny day, I learned of eight new cases of confirmed infections. March 24 was my last trip to the city – at least for a while. That night, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni announced a ban on all public transport means, with private means limited to carrying not more than two passengers. The ban eventually was extended for everything except for trucks transporting food.
At this point, the virus threat became a reality. Most people were wearing facemasks. Hand-washing containers were at all entries and exits of markets, large buildings, taxi parks and supermarkets. Shop owners and operators were sanitizing the hands of their customers. Unlike the usually welcoming market environment, the traders themselves were barring those who resisted hand washing.
Money to feed my family was uppermost in my mind. With a slight headache and enough shillings for a few days of family meals, I headed back to Mukono. But fear grew with the headache pain as I understood this to be one symptom of the COVID-19 infection. The anxiety lessened when my temperature taken at the UCU gate registered a normal 97 degrees Fahrenheit.
While financially crippling, the government curfew since March 24 has meant more family time – singing, playing, teaching and learning with my children. And while I didn’t have access to computers on the locked-down campus, I was able to complete some long-overdue writing assignments on a phone donated to me by an American last year. Many times, I did the work just outside the UCU gate where the university wifi was weak but reaching.
At 53 infections and zero deaths as I write this on Easter Sunday, I remain optimistic that Uganda may escape the huge numbers experienced by much of the rest of the world.
How deep, when and where else will COVID-19 strike? I don’t know. But surrounded by my wife and children, I’m watching.
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The post My experience with the COVID-19 outbreak in Uganda appeared first on Uganda Christian University Partners.