One of the measures that were put in place by the government to fight against COVID-19 was a lockdown. This saw all schools, churches and various institutions closed down for close to six months.
As the country grapples with the 4th stage of the pandemic characterized by community transmissions of the virus, experts have opined that shutting down the economy is not a viable move but rather employing measures to safely reopen the economy fully.
Dr. Misaki Wayengera, the Chairman Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC), National COVID Task force revealed that total re-opening of various sectors will go on.
Wayengera made these remarks during the launch of the REFLECT (Refugee Lived Experiences, Compliance and Thinking in COVID-19) Study which was held at Makerere University (Central Teaching Facility 1).
The study entails research on knowledge, adherence and the lived experiences of the refugees in COVID-19 with a comparative assessment on urban and rural refugee settings in Uganda.
This study is being conducted in 3 refugee settlements; Kisenyi, Kyaka II and Adjumani supported by the UK government through Elrha/Research for Health in Humanitarian Crisis (R2HC), UKAID and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
Wayengera said that the lockdown led to the rise of many challenges like increased teenage pregnancies due to closure of schools, domestic violence among others which necessitated the reopening of the economy.
“We started opening up but some sectors remained closed because we are still studying transmission dynamics. We shall continue opening up because we will have to live with COVID-19,” he added.
He also said that due to the lockdown, people have developed mental health challenges, prompting a surge in admissions at Butabika National Referral Hospital, which need to be addressed.
Dr Gloria Seruwagi, the principal investigator of the REFLECT study said, “One of our identities is being one of the top refugee hosting countries in the whole world.”
As such, this research was done on COVID-19 among the refugee communities who come from different countries; Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea.
Dr Seruwagi said that this was intended to find out how covid-19 has affected them and the level of their compliance to the national guidelines among others.
“We found that they are affected as the general community here. They were hit hard at the beginning of March and through April. Currently, there is a little bit of complacency to the guidelines especially wearing masks; which we are also observing in the general community,” she said.
However, she explained, for the case of refugees, its heightened vulnerability as they are out of their countries; socially and economically challenged and in terms of livelihoods, there is increased gender violence.
She also said that findings show a lot of innovation and resilience in the refugee communities.
“There are stories on resilience, about how they are copying. The community leaders among the refugee camps have been influential in cascading information on prevention of COVID-19 and there’s also knowledge about the virus.”
“However, this knowledge does not translate into actions especially now that people think the virus is dying down, there are lots of myths as refugees say they are immune to it because they think that they have survived so much,” Dr. Seruwagi said.
Professor Noeline Nakasujja, the chairperson of the department of psychiatry at the College of Health Sciences – Makerere University, recommended more mental health services to refugees.
She pointed out that in some instances, the recoveriees are mistreated upon returning to their communities, which causes mental health problems.
Nonetheless, leaders (representatives) in refugee communities commended the government and partners for hosting refugees over the years.
Ms Sandrie, a refugee representative from Kyaka II said, “We have been given hand washing facilities, detergents and even masks and we have been trained on issues concerning COVID-19.”
Ms Lilly Anek Okuru, refugee representative from Adjumani said that although relief has been provided, there’s need to tighten refugee boarders among the host communities in order to prevent the spread of covid-19.
“We request the government to put in place a task force in the refugee communities so that new entrants are quarantined first before joining the community,” she said.