Covid-19 Survivors in Uganda Face Stigma and Rejection

By Gloria Laker Aciro Adiiki

At the onset of the pandemic, many survivors of Covid-19 in Uganda were rejected by their families and communities.

Martin Vuga was admitted at Entebbe with Covid-19 in April after testing positive during routine quarantine. He had just returned from Europe where he travelled for a working trip and upon return he was placed under quarantine. It is from here where he tested positive for Covid-19.

Dr. Paska Apiyo and her team at during s … in Gulu. Photo by Gulu Medical Team

Martin’s admission was during the peak of the pandemic, just a few days after President Museveni had imposed a ban on public transport and ordered for the closure of all Ugandan borders including Entebbe Airport; bringing the entire nation to standstill in order to control the spread of corona virus. At this point Martin was in Europe.

“I really can’t tell how I got corona virus and when my results came positive, I felt utterly cold, upset, lost and confused, for a moment I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or it was a reality”, Martin describes the fateful moment after receiving his corvid-19 test results. “Given the high death rates in European countries, I knew I was going to die soon and constantly haunted by the thought that I would not see my wife and children again.” 

With limited public awareness about Covid-19 then, every Ugandan was anxious and blanketed in fear. “Since we were just more than a handful of Covid-19 patients we received a lot of care and attention from the doctors and nurses”, Martins acknowledges the high standards of patient service in the corvid-19 isolation center.

“After completing my treatment and subsequently testing negative, I was glad to re-unite with my family but little did I know the misperception and prejudices about survivors in particular that had taken root in the minds of my family and community members. This negativity was overtly expressed in the antipathy and resentment towards me”.

Another night mare for Martine struck when family members distanced themselves from him.

“In most of my foreign trips, I used to return to this warm welcome with my wife preparing nice meals and the home could radiate life and ecstasy but this time round this was no longer the case. My family simply didn’t want to associate with me at all in compliance with covid 19 prevention procedures. Under the covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) families are instructed to distance themselves from members who have been discharged quarantine and treatment centers.

“My 9-year-old daughter who was so fond of me asked me; Daddy are you going to die of corona?  My wife remained cold and kept a distance from me. I quickly realized this and I sent a message to my sister about being rejected by my family.”

“With public and private means banned, my sister hired a pickup; I sat at the back and we headed to Gangu where she had just constructed self-contained rentals. She made sure I carried my laptop, phone chargers and all I needed and she sent me food every after four days.”

When he relocated to his sister’s place Martin felt a sense of solace.

“I was relieved and I even put on more weight. Albeit the indifference of my wife, I kept communicating with my family on phone since I could not blame the children because they are young. My wife’s attitude greatly shocked me since I expected her unconditional support in terms of diet and, of course, as a couple we ought to stand for one another in good and bad times.”

It was only after two months that Martin returned to his family and this time the situation was better. “Although we try to live peacefully as a family I can never forget how my wife rejected me. But I also can’t blame her squarely because at that time the public was not adequately sensitized about Covid-19”.

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