Watipa scholars supporting their community response to COVID-19

This is the first in a series that profiles the work and thought leadership of Watipa scholars in their local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read about the thoughts and reflections during COVID-19 in Uganda, from Mariam Nassaka, a Watipa scholar and graduate of Social Work and Administration in 2019.
“As advocates, we need to strive to identify common patterns that could possibly lead to cheaper, long-term and healthier solutions.”

What motivated me to write? 

The rights of people mostly women and young people were at risk of violation therefore as an advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights for the most at risk of HIV, l had to come out and speak out their voice.
The zeal to fight COVID-19 in my community motivated me so much to write and suggest possible response interventions. I wanted to investigate on the perceptions of people in Uganda on COVID-19.

In Uganda, one of the biggest issue in the lockdown is hunger. The government has and still supporting people with food though it has not been fully distributed in all the parts of country, many people are still starving.

Crack down on human rights in Uganda due to COVID-19 crisis

Tesy is a 21 year old young lady living in the outskirts of Kampala. The recent COVID-19 global pandemic has caused widespread panic and it also worries her as her husband spends all day drunk and he is not aware of the safety measures against the virus such as washing hands, avoiding crowded places and staying home, all this on top of her daily battering by him with no reason when he returns home late, dead drunk.

Caused by the new Corona Virus, COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease, a pandemic that has brought about a great disruption of normal life of Ugandans and the world at large.

In the effort of flattening the COVID-19 curve, the government of Uganda has imposed increasingly restrictive measures aimed at curtailing the spread of the virus.

Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement within the borders of each State

The President ordered for the closure of schools, religious gatherings, public rallies and cultural meetings. The government further banned public transport and non-food markets and prior to that, it had closed the bars and instituted a mandatory 14 day quarantine for anyone returning to the country from high risk countries. When the number of people infected surpassed 30, the government announced additional measures including a country wide partial lockdown and the president further ordered restrictions on movements of people including private vehicles, motorcycles and introduced a 7pm to 6:30Am curfew coordinated by the Uganda security forces.

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.

While all this has been put in place, the media has continually reported that some arms of security forces have been using excessive force to enforce the government laid COVID-19 curbing measures thus becoming a human rights issue. Some soldiers beat and shoot at persons found outdoors during curfew time. According to the comments from social media channels, the majority of the young people in Uganda who are the hardest hit citizens are casual labourers who have been greatly affected by the partial shutdown. How are they and their families going to survive in this period?

Confidentiality and personal privacy are at stake. I witnessed stigma and discrimination when Uganda first announced its first positive cases, the purported identity of the individual was spreading like a bush fire. But being an independent country with a proper medical system how could such a thing happen? What happened to the professional medical ethics concerning confidentiality and personal privacy of a patient

Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and family

Also aside from this, young people living with HIV have to walk long distances to the health facilities while on an empty stomach for antiretroviral treatment (ART) refills and also tuberculosis (TB) patients who largely depend on the informal sector must stay home due to their increased vulnerability to COVID-19. The TB treatment needs food, as dolutegravir makes a person feel hungry yet unfortunately markets are severely hit with food scarcity. Life is indeed tough for us.

To an expectant mother ready for delivery, it feels like a death sentence due to the COVID-19 crisis at hand. Some deliver along the roadsides as they have to walk all the way to the health facilities; and access to services to prevent vertical transmission of HIV from a mother to her child (PMTCT) is also at risk due to the ban on public transport. And due to this pandemic, many parents have mixed feelings when a baby is born to them as they are worried about the entire ordeal of child birth. There’s also lack of food and Sexual reproductive health services such as contraceptives are limited and are quite expensive to purchase yet young girls and women are at a verge of sexual exploitation.

While the pandemic globally affects us all, young girls and women in particular are facing unique challenges as health care systems are failing, inequalities are compounding, special needs are deprioritized and face additional barriers to care, particularly sexual and reproductive health care.

Article 26: Everyone has the right to education.

Adolescents are faced with insecurity and psychosocial torture due to prolonged closures of non-informal education opportunities, movement restrictions, social engagement limitations with their peers, and peer educators which has fuelled emotional unrest and anxieties. This has made young people see governmental institutional failure in terms of meeting their needs and the casual attitude of young people towards the corona virus is at great odds with the reality that the doctors and the government see.

What can we do about it?

The basic human rights of people should be at the center of the government’s response to this pandemic, especially the most vulnerable such as the homeless youth, says Oryem Nyeko, a Ugandan researcher at Human rights Watch.

In the context of COVID-19, with the disruption of schools, routine health services and community level centers, new ways of providing information and support to adolescents and young people for sexual and reproductive health and rights need to be established – UNFPA reports.

While this pandemic affects us all, young people exposed to COVID-19 are as likely as old people to become infected and contagious. Young people can be an important resource in mitigating risks and community outreach in this crisis. In spite of digital inequalities, this generation of young people is more connected to technology, media and the internet than any other generation. In this lockdown and social distancing, many young people’s familiarity with technology is fundamental in spreading vital information supporting each other and larger communities.

Practical actions are needed in place to prevent, protect and mitigate all forms of violence, stigma and discrimination against the vulnerable groups.

As advocates, we need to strive to identify from the diverse perspectives common patterns that could possibly lead to cheaper, long-term and healthier solutions. COVID-19 being a dynamic disease, we need to raise and spread awareness on the real time nature of disease and promote honest conversations and health fellowships such as allocating essential services needed to mitigate the challenges faced by vulnerable populations during the period of COVID-19.

~ Mariam Nassaka, Watipa scholar and graduate, Uganda

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