Uganda is in an odd position at the moment with regard to the coronavirus. Officially as of 15th May we have only 160 confirmed cases and no deaths. It is possible that many cases are being missed but health workers do not report seeing possible cases or unexplained deaths. If this is the real situation then Covid 19 appears to be behaving less aggressively here (and indeed in many other African countries) than in much of the rest of the world, but no one has any real idea of why.
On the other hand we are six weeks into a lock down of sorts that is proving devastating, in particular for town dwellers, as many people live day to day through work activities that are now banned or impossible. Northern Uganda is one of the poorest parts of one of the world’s poorest countries and many people struggle under the best of circumstances, with education for their children and health care beyond the means of many families.
While the impacts of the virus will emerge in ways no-one can predict, the effects of the lock down are here already, and will be felt long into the future – small business owners such as market stallholders are spending their working capital on food, which will have long term consequences on their ability to re-start when the lock down finishes. This will in turn affect how many children can return to school, how many with malaria receive life-saving treatments, how many HIV+ people can afford sufficient food to take their essential medication, and ultimately, community levels of malnutrition, affecting all aspects of living and life expectancy.
The impacts are not just economic. Like in the West the lock down is affecting how people cope emotionally, how families relate to each other and how they fill the time. In some ways things here are easier – almost no one is entirely isolated because so much of life is lived outside. But poverty and living in very close proximity to family and neighbours create different problems and can intensify stresses and tensions. These factors also make the lock down inevitably less effective – social distancing is not really possible when a whole family live in one room, where a number of households share a latrine and where one’s whole neighbourhood collects household water supplies daily from a public bore hole.
Here at TCS, as well as helping people get through the lock down, we are trying to think ahead and plan for how people will be able to restart their livelihoods when this becomes possible.