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Covid-19: Uganda Refugee Settlements Register Drastic Decline in Safe Practices

Refugee communities in Uganda are slowly abandoning safe practices outlined by the Health Ministry to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, a situation that could lead to more casualties.

In the refugee settlement of Kyaka II, Kyegegwa district in South Western Uganda, leaders say refugees are not complying with the guidelines.

In September, 40 refugees and humanitarian workers at Kyangwali refugee camp tested positive for COVID-19 while two refugees died.

Sifa Mubalama, a counsellor in Kyaka II told ChimpReports there is non-compliance with the guidelines considering that settlements don’t have enough masks.

“We were all given one mask each in Kyaka II settlement which you have to wash often and use again, hence becoming too old getting torn after some time,” said Mubalama.

“There is also inconsistent supply of soap and water. Because of this, some of the community members have not been washing their hands consistently,” she added.

The Finance Ministry’s budget committee recently advised that government and other stakeholders should review the need for additional masks in relation to the population segments, social classes and use of the already distributed masks.

The MoH had distributed 13.4 million masks by 4th August 2020, while a total of 16 million masks had been delivered by 28th August 2020.

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By August 2020, the need for masks had increased from 11 million to 21.4million.

Dr Misaki Wayengera, the chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee -Covid-19 for the Ministry of Health as well as the National Task Force, said some districts did not get enough masks as there was an urgency to distribute them to candidates returning to school.

“We intended to distribute masks to the entire 139 districts of Uganda. However, this was not possible because we opened up schools,” said Dr Wayengera.

“As the ministry, we had to negotiate with the ministry of education to prioritise the students who were going to school with every student receiving 2 masks. As a result, we have not been able to distribute masks across the entire country,” he explained.

However, leaders say even refugees who have masks rarely wear them.

“Many people only wear masks when they meet the police,” said Mubalama.

Happy Peter Christopher, the speaker of Kyegegwa Sub-County noted the considerable laxity in implanting SOPs.

“People are not putting on masks and are careless. Refugees also buy food from the nationals and there are intermarriages. So, the spread of covid-19 is very possible,” he observed.

Kids playing football in Kyegegwa refugee camp (Photos: Esther Makula/ChimpReports)

Amina Mukamana, a Village Health Team member called for more enforcement measures for people to know that covid-19 is real.

A recent report by Uganda Bureau of Statistics showed a drastic decline in the reported prevalence of safe practices.

“The practices of wearing a mask in public and hand washing after being in public are far from being universal and are highly correlated with the respondent’s education,” the survey report reads in part.

The country hosts 1.4 million refugees, mostly from the DRC, South Sudan and Burundi.

Uganda has so far registered 28,168 CVID cases with 225 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic earlier this year.

Moved mainly by Uganda’s open-door policy on refugee hosting; and the knowledge gap on COVID-19 impact in refugee communities, Makerere researchers in partnership with different institutions in academia, policy and practice recently commenced on a study contributing to increased compliance with the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 prevention guidelines under the project entitled “Refugee Lived Experiences, Compliance, and Thinking” (REFLECT) in Covid-19.

The study findings are expected to contribute to key filling gaps in knowledge, policy by designing programmes to increase understanding and compliance levels around COVID-19 and refugee communities.

According to the study, as more refugees continue to abandon the safe practices, the higher the chances of a spike in infections in refugee communities.

The refugees and displaced persons currently living in overcrowded camps across are facing a heightened risk of COVID-19 due to the mostly deplorable conditions.

Without adequate access to clean water, sanitation or hygiene items such as soap, a COVID-19 outbreak in the camps would have devastating consequences.

Mubalama told ChimpReports that each family receives Shs 22,000 per month, which is not enough to sustain the families.

“Most refugees go out in the communities to do manual work, to supplement on the income,” she observed.

Mubalama also said that children are not adhering to the Standard Operating Procedures because their parents are not.

Local leaders said government and other stakeholders need to increase supplies to refugee communities to prevent further spread of the virus.

“In terms of providing support, we must ensure that we provide things like masks, soap, sanitizers and also educational materials around the SOPs,” said Christopher.

Covid-19 Among Refugees

Dr Wayengera said Uganda is listed as one of the friendliest countries to refugees in the entire world and that borders were not closed for refugees, even during the lockdown. In order to prevent infections, measures were put in place.

“We emphasised screening of refugees; both at the border points and as they were getting into the settlements to ensure they didn’t have covid-19,” she said.

“There were efforts to sanitise people; spraying them and making sure that they wear masks.”

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