The recent reports about the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in Uganda have raised anxiety among a number of people living with uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
By the time of this publication, Uganda had registered a total of 507 cases out of whom, 391 admitted COVID-19 confirmed cases admitted in 15 regional referral hospitals in the country and 82 recoveries have been recorded.
However much the country leadership and Ministry of Health are engaging the citizens to adhere to the preventive measures of social distancing, regular hand washing with clean water and soap, wearing of face masks among others, there is a silent disease [stigma] which has not been given much attention by authorities.
President Museveni in his 15th COVID-19 address to the nation on Monday 1st June, 2020 eased lockdown measures by allowing private vehicles to move and resumption of public transport with necessary health and safety measures in place within the country, there is still fear filled among people.
Peter Ogwang, Uganda’s Minister of State for Information Communications Technology and National Guidance, has taken a step to champion the fight against Stigma resulting from COVID-19.
On May 30th, 2020, the Minister publicly tested for COVID-19 at Mulago Hospital in Kampala Uganda.
According to him, he voluntarily took the decision as a way of fighting stigma which is resulting from the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases in Uganda.
“I voluntarily took the COVID-19 test and I was ready for the outcome of the results and I was ready to share it with the public,” said Ogwang during an exclusive interview with Aica.
Ogwang becomes the first legislator in the country and East Africa to champion the fight against COVID-19 related stigma.
During an interview, the Minister pointed out misinformation and lack of health education as contributing factors to stigma.
“The media in Uganda has done a commendable job in awareness creation about COVID-19 and I can confirm that, there is no Ugandan who does not know what do as a preventive measure against this pandemic,” said Ogwang.
He added that “the next challenge now is the fear caused by this disease. Each one of us has a role to play to stop stigma related to Covid-19 by knowing the facts.”
One of the biggest fears in Uganda is the association to truck drivers with the community, since a higher rate of patients who tested positive of Covid-19 are from cargo transporters from the neighboring countries of Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Other people also fear that patients who have recovered from the illness might still be infectious even after being cleared by authorities.
“I have also got information that people are worried about the return recovered patients returning to their communities. We now need to avail our communities with the right information to stop them from being afraid of what they do not know,” added Ogwang.
A number of Covid-19 survivors, who have so far won the battle with the virus, are battling another scourge; social stigma arising out of misinformation and panic surrounding the pandemic.
However, not just recovered patients but also their families too are facing taunts and social discrimination to every stage of the disease whether its pre-diagnosis, treatment or post cure.
About Recovering Patients
According to the latest statistic, Uganda has 303 active cases from the 507 confirmed cases, 82 recoveries with zero death. Globally, a total of 485,861 people have recovered from coronavirus, 380,265 deaths out of the 6,441,152 confirmed cases.
Research by Wuhan University’s Zhongnan Hospital in China suggests that recovering patients with mild symptoms become low-risk around 10 days after they first fall ill.
The research further reveals that although the virus could persist in the body for up to two weeks after symptoms had vanished; as the patients were no longer coughing or sneezing, the potential means of transmission were albeit much reduced.
According to World Health Organisation [WHO], people who have recovered from the virus and are no longer displaying any symptoms could still remain contagious for up to two weeks.
As such, the WHO has warned that quarantine measures should be extended for a further fortnight after recovery as people may still be contagious.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, told a press conference last month in Geneva that: “People infected with Covid-19 can still infect others after they stop feeling sick, so these measures should continue for at least two weeks after symptoms disappear.”
The ministry of health, health professionals, and political leaders should be able to start campaigns against this discrimination and educate citizens that cured patients are not a danger to the community.