Health Facilities Ill-Prepared for COVID-19 Threat

At Naguru General Hospital- one of the health facilities that has been designated by the health ministry to handle referral cases of the disease, doctors are working with no face shields. They are using surgical masks and lack goggles to protect their eyes.
According to WHO, health workers are the front line heros in the COVID 19 fight. However the lack of PPE leaves them at risk of falling sick too

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Health facilities in Uganda are not ready to handle COVID-19 patients, as the disease continues to spread. Uganda has so far registered 14 cases of people who have tested positive to the virus which has claimed more than 20,000 lives in different parts of the world.

Amidst the threat of further spread, the National Referral Hospital in Mulago and Entebbe Hospital are fitted with equipment such as Personal Protective Equipment-PPE, Ventilators, Oxymeters and are stuffed with health workers who have been trained to stop hospital infections regarding COVID 19.

However, other health facilities lack the bare minimum. According to the Ministry of Health COVID-19 response plan, all regional referral hospitals are supposed to have personal protective equipment, gloves, facial masks, goggles and equipment to pick samples from suspected cases. The ministry is also supposed to provide tents that can be used as treatment centres in case hospitals do not have enough space.

URN visited several regional referral and general hospitals and was met with the stark reality that many health facilities were not prepared to handle the disease in the number of patients surges.

At Naguru General Hospital- one of the health facilities that has been designated by the health ministry to handle referral cases of the disease, doctors are working with no face shields. They are using surgical masks and they lack goggles to protect their eyes.   

Dr Emmanuel Batimwe, the Executive Director of the hospital says that the conditions under which his doctors are operating are unsafe.    

“We do not have masks. The ministry has been promising these things but we have seen nothing. I want to protect my people on the ground. I am calling upon anyone to help me protect my people,” Dr Batimwe said. 

According to Dr Batimwe, Naguru Hospital has received more than 100 suspected cases of COVID-19 and adds that his clinicians need N95 masks or face shields to protect them for the dangers that might arise out of exposure.

He says the hospital has resorted to making sure that all patients who go for screening wear facial masks to reduce the level of exposure of health workers. Patients have to part with 5,000 Shillings to buy a dusk mask or 2,000 Shillings for a surgical mask.    

In Mukono district, a few kilometres away from Kampala, 15 suspected COVID-19 patients have been reported. But due to a lack of equipment at Mukono General Hospital, patients that are suspected to have the disease are referred to Kampala. Eight of these were referred to Naguru.

James Nkata, the district Chief Administrative Officer says that the only option for them is to transfer the cases because they have no way of testing or even treating them. Suspected patients are kept at the outpatient waiting shed before they can be transported to Kampala.  

"We have trained some of our health workers to identify the disease but when we get suspected cases we take them to Kampala because we cannot handle them. We do not even have an isolation centre here,” Nkata said.   

The situation is not any different in Wakiso district where Chairman Matia Lwanga Bwanika says that health workers have not been provided with basic needs such as soap at hospitals to keep themselves safe.

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Wakiso district health officer Dr Mathias Lugoloobi says health officers are fearing for their lives, and a number of them have been hiding due to absence of equipment.

"Because there is no equipment at the health centre IV, some health workers are no longer going to the health centre. They are hiding in their homes because they are scared that a COVID-19 patient might walk in," Lugoloobi said.

Uganda last week confirmed its first COVID-19 case. Eight other people tested positive thereafter, while on Wednesday, the health ministry announced five more confirmed cases, bringing the total to 14, within the country. One of the patients is an eight months old baby from Iganga district.

But administrators at Iganga Hospital say they are ill-prepared to handle such cases. As such, the baby was transferred to Mulago National Referral Hospital.

"We have a small eight-bed capacity room where the child was put. But now, even that room is full of people who might have come into contact with the child. They told us that  NMS would deliver our supplies and tents but we have not yet seen anything. We do not even have gloves," a source at the hospital said.

In Lira, an isolation facility has been identified and also a task force formed. But no equipment has been distributed to the hospital. Dr Patrick Buchan Ocen, the district health officer says that they are waiting for the health ministry to delivery the necessary equipment.

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The lack of equipment has worsened the response times of health workers. Ibrah Kitenda, a local leader at Ngandu Mukono district who reported one suspected case says it took health and security officers, a day to pick up the case.  

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Globally, over 370,000 cases of COVID 19 have been confirmed. In countries like Italy, France and Spain with some of the highest number of confirmed cases at the moment, the World Health Organization-WHO estimates that 30 per cent of all the reported cases and deaths are health workers. So far, over 21,000 people have succumbed to the disease.

Dr Henry Mwebesa, the director-general of health services says that the country will soon be able to provide all health facilities with the equipment they need to fight COVID 19. 

"We have been having a few shortages but we got a donation of equipment from China which is going to go along way in changing our response plan," Dr Mwebesa said.

The much-anticipated donation of supplies which the health ministry hopes will change its response plan came from a Chinese businessman and founder of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma. He donated 100,000 masks, 20,089 COVID 19 test list, 741 personal protective equipment and 1,111 face shields.