Coronavirus: Hygiene and Social-Distancing Elude Ugandan Slums

By Gloria Laker Aciro Adiiki.

“There is no respect for social distancing policy. People have started crowding in malwa joints and sharing the same drinking pot. They only observe the guidelines when we are near but once we leave their sight, they re-group,” laments Andrew Nyeko, the local council chairperson of Pece Vanguard.

Pece Vanguard is one of the 19 slums in Gulu City. It is famed for selling Malwa, a local brew made of millet and yeast.  When Uganda imposed a lockdown due to covid-19 pandemic, the place that normally teemed with malwa lovers went quiet. However, even with lockdown still in place residents are slowly resuming their usual ways of life.

As the world relies on social distancing as a policy to contain the spread of corona virus, residents in most of Uganda’s newly established cities are finding it hard to adhere. The newly-elevated city of Gulu in northern Uganda is a case in point. Among the residents of this burgeoning metropolis the risk of contracting corona virus ranks among the least of their concerns.

Physical Vulnerability of Pece Vanguard to Corvid-19

Nyeko’s jurisdiction has about 11,000 people, with each of the 2448 families having a minimum of five people. Most families in this sprawling slummy area cram in a single-roomed houses, partitioned by a curtain, or single-bedroomed houses where children sleep in the sitting room. Here it is impractical for each member to have a separate bed.

“Families share beds and eat from the same bowl. They assume that because they are from the same household, there’s no threat in mingling yet their move in many places during the day looking for money,” Nyeko says. ‘on the other hand children who are currently out-of-school loiter around, play games and mix with other children. In the evening they return home where they literally stuff themselves into crowded limited spaces.

A few days after President Museveni gave the first address to the nation on the need to keep social distance so as to slow the spread of the virus, Nyeko would talk to families and re-echo the need to wash hands regularly and they followed.

But they threw all caution through the window when the President made the last address.

“Most families now do not have hand-washing facilities. Those that have don’t bother to wash the utensil. They say they are tired of all these precautions, yet no one in the country has died of the virus,” Nyeko said.

Though the pandemic has been slow in Uganda with no registered death yet, World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that the continent needs to remain vigilant as Nyeko corroborates;

“If the virus surges, then we are going to suffer wretchedly because these drunkards don’t even eat well. Look, it is just 10 am but they are already drinking.” A majority of residents in slummy areas are not meaningfully employed so drinking is an integral part of their livelihoods. Their desolate economic status implies that they cannot afford basic necessities like food, decent accommodation and health care-these predisposing factors aggravate vulnerability to corvid-19.

‘Considering the frail immunity due to poor diet compounded by other pre-existing conditions, an outbreak of corvid-19 would spark off massive deaths. After all many are already physically emaciated.

 

Toll of Poverty on Adherence to Corvid-19 Guidelines

 

According to statistics, 21 per cent of Uganda’s population subsists below the poverty line. In a corollary the majority can’t put a meal on a table on a day they did not earn. This is one of the reasons many have decided to get back to work before the lockdown is completely lifted.

“I am a poor uneducated widow who needs to work to have a meal,” says Betty Aling, a malwa brewer in Pece Vanguard. With seven children to take care of, Aling says following ministry of health’s guidelines on Covid-19 is the least of her concerns. “How do I maintain social distancing when my house is full of children and grandchildren?” Aling asks.

“Health officials say one way to fight the virus is to have a strong immunity through proper diet. So, how can my family members build that immunity when we can barely feed because we are being asked to stay home?’’

As many slum dwellers worry about putting food on their table daily, several are also not convinced about the dangers of covid-19. Pamela Acen, a 34-year-old seamstress is among those who holds such doubts. “I hear people who are tested positive for corona in Uganda are just given a drink made of ginger and lemon and made to sit under the sun and they recover. Is that something to worry about?” she wonders.

Acen rents a two-roomed house. The front part serves as her shop. Even though the President has appealed to landlords to be lenient with their tenants during the pandemic, Acen says she has to work to pay him so that her rent does not accumulate.

Acen’s work means she interacts with many people who sometimes meet her two daughters whenever they ask for drinking water. “Contact with clients is inevitable. Sometimes they use our toilet and drink water using our cups. I can’t deny them access because they are the ones who bring for me money,” she says.

The latest report shows that Uganda has accumulated 1040 positive covid-19 cases, with 984 recoveries and no deaths. The government has loosened quite a number of the many restrictions.

While lessons are continuously being broadcast by radio stations and televisions, local leaders acknowledged that residents are no longer following them.

Jimmy Komakec, the Secretary for environment, production and health in Pece Vanguard says much as they are continuously reiterating the value of good hygiene and social distancing, people are still congregating.

“At the beginning of the lockdown people were compliant but on realizing that the virus was not killing people, complacency set in,” Komakec says.“But we have explained that people are not dying because they are still manageable by medical personnel. But when we throw away caution and the infections spread to the villages that have inaccessible roads, health facilities especially doctors are going to get overwhelmed and massive deaths will set in”.

Gloria Laker Aciro-Adiiki is a Ugandan award winning Journalist and heads Refugee and Migration Media Network, She is also a media activist involved in supporting refugees and promoting Peace Journalism. Gloria covered the LRA conflict in northern Uganda.Twitter @GloriaLaker +256788368386 Email; glorialaker@gmail.com

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