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Covid 19

‘Here in Uganda we have never faced a situation like COVID before’

From Kampala under lockdown, Ian Dolan reports on how we respond to the unprecedented challenge of the virus outbreak

Awich primary school in the Palabek Refugee Settlement Camp, Uganda where thousands have fled from conflict in South Sudan. Photo: Mark Stedman. Awich primary school in the Palabek Refugee Settlement Camp, Uganda where thousands have fled from conflict in South Sudan. Photo: Mark Stedman.

Here in Uganda there is a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty around COVID-19. We have never faced a situation like COVID or Ebola before in Uganda.

At least with Ebola you can identify who is vulnerable and keep them contained. You can close off the spread. COVID is very different- everyone is vulnerable and everyone is at risk.

Schools, businesses, public places, government departments, public transport; everything is closed. Some food shops and markets are open. But food prices are rising very fast here so in poorer communities this is a worry because soon they won’t be able to afford food.

The WHO has warned Africa to ‘prepare for the worst’ so despite the low number of confirmed cases so far here in Uganda we are doing our best to get ready.

The local organisations that we support here were shocked and scared when they began to understand the scale of the situation.

We are working with them now to figure out what work has to stop, what work can continue and adapt to COVID and what new support their communities need to get through this crisis.

Most of the NGOs are over the initial fear and now the focus is ‘this is our mandate- what can we do?’

Reaching rural isolated communities with prevention information on hygiene and social distancing is not straightforward. Our approach is very much around prevention planning- helping communities to protect themselves from the virus.

We are focused on getting information and materials to communities about handwashing and social distancing.

For example, our partners are organising local radio slots to get information out to the public. They are also translating information into local languages  so that no-one is left behind.  Megaphones and public address systems are another approach to spread the word across rural villages and towns who are isolated.

In Palabek refugee camp Trócaire  is supporting communities to get prepared. There are approximately 50,000 people in this camp, who fled the war is South Sudan and came here with nothing.

While the camp is small and people have a bit more space than other camps an average home still has about  7 people living in 2 rooms with neighbours nearby. How does social distancing work here? If they stay at home how will they get food?

We are working through our local partners and building a plan based on  their strengths. For example, our community farming programmes will roll out the hand-washing stations and our mental health partners will focus on raising awareness and spreading information.

Reaching communities is a struggle and then getting them to trust the information you are giving them is another. As an agency of the Catholic Church Trócaire can also work through the Diocesan and parish structures which are strong throughout Uganda.

Trócaire is working with the Catholic Medical Bureau in Uganda to support a coordinated approach so there are no gaps in the response.

The situation has evolved so fast here. The government has reacted much quicker than we expected, closing schools and stopping public transport. This left us very little time to prepare and it has left people here scrambling. But overall they were positive decisions that have been welcomed.

We are determined to support the communities where we work to prepare for what is coming.

Ian Dolan is Trócaire Uganda Country Director based in Kampala

COVID-19 knows no borders and neither does your compassion. We know not everyone is in a position to support this work right now, but if you can, please consider supporting our Lent appeal.

Your support means we can provide hygiene kits, testing kits, information campaigns and other projects to communities affected by COVID-19 in places like Uganda, DR Congo and Somalia.

You can donate online or by phoning:
1850 408 408 (Republic of Ireland)
0800 912 1200 (Northern Ireland).

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