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Homeland Security

Uganda's Health Care System Struggling Against Second COVID Wave

By Halima Athumani December 23, 2020

A second wave of COVID-19 infections in Uganda is overwhelming hospitals. The country has close to 32,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and at least 238 people have died.

Ugandan talk show host Charles Odongtho was only showing mild symptoms from his COVID-19 infection until he was about to complete his 14-day quarantine.

"My worst day so far has been on the twelfth day," he said. "When, you know, heat, chills on the body. And very general weakness, which I cannot explain, the knees, the joints pains and then, all these pains, and then a lot of headache."

Odongtho said he was exposed to the virus from multiple sources, including a high-level function held by the Ministry of Health.

The Health Ministry said infections like Odongtho's are part of a second wave that is straining Uganda's health care system.

"There's increased demand for high acute beds, that is, high dependency units and intensive care units," said Joyce Moriku Kaducu, Uganda's State Minister for Health. "Two, there's increased requirement for round-the-clock patient care and monitoring with more staff required than would normally be expected. Three, exponential increase in oxygen utilization by over ten-folds."

Push for social distancing

The latest wave of illness came after the country's lockdown was lifted and people gathered in groups, said Dr. Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam of the World Health Organization.

"And until people keep distance, do these meetings in small numbers, keep a distance and keep hands hygienic, more and more Ugandans will get sick," Woldemariam said. "And the more and more people get sick, the health services will not be able to cope with it."

Hospitals struggling

At the Mulago National Referral Hospital, there are just eight functional beds in the Intensive Care Unit and oxygen is in short supply.

Hospital authorities said they are scrambling to accommodate the influx of patients.

"We have two levels where we are looking after, and each level is of 56 bed capacity," said Dr. Rosemary Byanyima, the hospital's deputy director. "So, we have already set up a third level ready in case we need to expand. And the Ministry is recruiting more doctors and nurses who will be nursing these people."

Meanwhile, Ugandan authorities are discouraging travel for the holiday season, fearing that the coming weeks could see another spike in confirmed cases.

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