COVID-19 LOCKDOWN DILEMMA: ONE-MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION ON PUBLIC HEALTH VERSUS UGANDA’S ECONOMY

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ANALYSIS BY:
BRIAN MUKALAZI
email: bmukalazi@ecmafrica.org

ACCORDING to a June 8th 2021 World Bank Report, the Coronavirus (Covid-19) shock has caused a sharp contraction of the Ugandan economy to its slowest pace in three decades. 
Due to the lockdowns instituted in 2020, household incomes fell, jobs were lost and this raised the vulnerability of the poor, especially those in the urban informal sector.
Yet, in his national address on June 18th 2021, President Museveni announced a new 42-day total lockdown, which came against the backdrop of rising Covid-19 cases and deaths. 
By June 18th, Uganda had registered 68,778 Covid-19 cases, of which 1,700 cases were reported within the three weeks leading up to that day. The reported total deaths were 542 and these have since soared beyond 1,900.
The two scenarios described above portray the kind of dilemma our government and leaders could be currently grappling with: a stark trade-off between losing lives (public health) versus losing livelihoods (economy). So, the one-million-dollar question is: How do we defeat this ugly pandemic and get out of this nightmare while effectively managing both scenarios?
On one hand, lockdowns, especially in the densely-populated regions like the Kampala metropolitan, have been regarded as the best option in containing the spread of this deadly virus and preventing hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

In many ways, like never before, Covid-19 has exposed and produced a vivid picture of Uganda’s healthcare system.With an acute shortage of drugs, oxygen and intensive care beds in both private and public medical facilities, the country has lost over 500 people in the last three weeks to Covid-19. And to some extent, Covid-19 has temporarily erased the inequalities between the rich and the poor. Silent and unseen, the disease has, in this second wave, unceremoniously travelled through the entire Ugandan society, oblivious of the person’s wealth or status. 
Many patients and their care-givers have been left helpless after being turned away by hospitals due to limited facilitates, human resources and the exorbitant medical bills. 
On the other hand, just like the previous ones, the current lockdown measures have immobilized businesses, slowed down productivity and have led to a mini-economic crisis. 
I don’t want to sound like a cynic but this economic crisis could be a pandemic far deadlier in the long term than the covid-19 pandemic. A few days back, I watched Finance Minister Matia Kasaijja admit with startling honesty that Uganda’s current debt levels, which have now surpassed the 50 per cent safety threshold, had become worrisome. In the just concluded financial year that ended June 30, 2021, Uganda borrowed heavily in order to shore up budget shortages together with Covid-19 related expenses. With limited government support for private enterprises and individuals, more people appear to be sliding back into poverty. This means lower economic growth and lower levels of trust in government institutions. Could this be the time to consider economic reforms? I guess so! 
Of course, whereas the media has been filled with lots of heart-breaking accounts of dead people in the recent weeks, it’s worth mentioning that thousands of lives have been saved thanks to the tireless efforts of our medical workers. 
And by the time of writing this, the number of reported cases were on a decline.  For now, despite these difficulties, despite the current tensions and setbacks, I believe that the key priority is for us to stay alive because with (good) health, people can choose which direction to push themselves, their societies and their country. 
But to compliment this, we expect key changes in government attitudes so that at the end of the day, all Ugandans are regarded and treated as “essential citizens”.

Also click and read this story: COVID-19: WHAT IF THERE IS NO RETURN TO ‘NORMAL’? HERE IS WHAT NO BODY HAS TOLD YOU

The author Mr. Brian Mukalazi is the Country Director of Every Child Ministries Uganda.
Reach him on: bmukalazi@ecmafrica.org

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