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Ugandan Minister Champions Fight Against Coronavirus Stigma

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Peter Ogwang, Minister of State for ICT and National Guidance. PHOTO BY NOAH OMUYA.

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.

Information

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

Latest COVID-19 Statistics

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.

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Noah Omuya

Noah Omuya is the founder and CEO of Aica Communications LTD, a Company that currently runs an online news publication (www.aica.co.ug) with a plan of beginning to print Magazines and a newspaper in Ateso language in 2020. He is a Media challenge Fellow- class of 2019 and he has specialized training in writing, strategic and multimedia communication, mainstream and online journalism from the Media challenge fellowship and Kampala International University, where he pursued his Bachelors of Mass Communication. At the age of 18, Omuya was a train-on-job employee with Joshua 93.5 FM where he acquired a three years’ demonstrable experience in broadcast media, content development, public relations and, marketing and promotions strategies for private businesses, public entities and non-profit organizations, as well as engaging with traditional media. He scooped a Media Challenge award for the best feature essay writer of the year 2018. He was also first runner up for the refugee broadcast story of the year, and second runner up for radio feature story teller. The Media Challenge Award qualified him to be part of the Media Challenge Fellowship, where he has got intensive training in solutions journalism, political reporting, investigative reporting, youth participatory radio, multimedia journalism, and data journalism. At the fellowship, he has been trained by international celebrated journalists from BBC, CNN, Reuters, AFP, NBS Tv, UBC Tv, NTV, New Vision, Daily Monitor among other recognized institutes. He also has hands-on experience in research, in different private organizations in Uganda; experience in media relations with regular assignments in field reporting, marketing and public relations.

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