President Yoweri Museveni has said that Uganda cannot afford to conduct mass testing for the coronavirus, saying the venture would be very expensive and meaningless.
It follows concerns raised by the public in recent days, many questioning why government does not opt for mass testing so as to identify those infected and isolate them. Many opined that this would be the most rational thing to do.
Health officials told the President during his national address on Tuesday that conducting a single Covid-19 test costs $65 (Shs 253,000). Testing 10,000 people in Uganda would cost government $650,000 (Shs 2.47bn), the President said, adding that this is untenable.
Museveni said the government will continue to conduct targeted testing for those who present with symptoms.
“Mass testing is very expensive and very meaningless. You might be negative today and you are exposed tomorrow. That’s why it’s better to test with signs,” he said.
In countries like the U.K and U.S where cases of COVID-19 are in their thousands, the idea of mass testing is still far from possible. Priority in testing is being given to people who have recently traveled internationally, especially to high risk countries, as well as those considered to be presenting symptoms like cough, flue and others.
During Tuesday’s address, Museveni touched on a number of issues including the much needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health care workers who face the risk of being exposed to infection.
There have been reports that some health workers in facilities across the country fear to get close to patients who have symptoms of COVID-19 for their own protection.
“On PPE for health workers, I have been watching TV and countries like UK and Spain, there’s a big outcry. So, I checked with the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health and she told me of the arrangements they are making. She said orders have been made and a supply is expected soon. I want it in writing on the source and quantities,” the President said.
He says government is engaging local factories such as Nyanza Textiles and NICE Plastics to have them manufacture protective gear “so that we import only materials to use”.
The President said Uganda has capacity to produce these medical essentials that have gone into short supply during the pandemic as was the case with sanitizers.
Measures to curb the spread
Museveni clarified on a number of issues relating to the additional restrictions in movement, issued on Tuesday.
He stressed that use of private vehicles will not be allowed and that government will not relax its stance since it (position) has been abuse.
He said those who intend to do shopping in supermarkets will have to walk or make orders using trucks or boda bodas.
“In Kampala and upcountry towns, there are many supermarkets or shops in suburbs. Walk to the nearest supermarket or food shop. Private cars had transformed into taxis and these were very dangerous. We want this movement minimized so that we stop the spread of this problem”.
“Use home delivery systems. Your boda bodas or bicycles can now do some work by coming to the supermarket, picking something and bringing it to your door. We only exempted cargo”.
He said diplomatic vehicles are exempted only for cargo and emergency use.
Regarding daily curfew which started Tuesday (7pm to 6:30), he cautioned the public against moving during this period.
“Security forces will be out and we don’t want incidents”.
He also reiterated government’s plans to make provisions for food to the vulnerable groups.
“The groups we will look at are those who were feeding themselves but earning daily and they live off their daily earnings. They live hand to mouth. Once you stop what they were doing, on account of health, where do they get food from?”
He said these groups will be identified and will be given support for a month or so until the situation returns to normal. The intervention will be led by the national taskforce headed by the Prime Minister.
Museveni issued a stern warning against individuals especially politicians involved in the distribution of food, saying it risks furthering the spread since it involves people gathering.
“This time they will face attempted murder not illegal assembly. You are trying to kill people. You are an enemy, we are going to crash you. They think this will make them popular but it is criminal. It must not be tolerated. And we will not grant you bail”.
Those seeking to make a contribution should do that through the national taskforce, he said. In his assessment, more support is needed in the vehicles required in the response of COVID-19.
He tasked RDCs to reorganize their offices to have people who man the call centres on a 24/7 basis.
He also warned cultural leaders against opposing science. It follows reports that some cultural leaders in Northern Uganda are misleading the public claiming Coronavirus is an evil spirit and not a disease.