The first confirmed Covid-19 case in Uganda was officially announced on 21 March, one day after the government’s decision to close schools and universities and to implement the first restrictions and social distancing measures. As Laura Beutler, Technical Coordinator of Malteser International’s Emergency Medical Service project in Uganda explains: “Panic started to mount. There were fears that Covid-19 was like Ebola”.
From that day the work of the Order of Malta’s worldwide relief agency changed. The main Kampala office was closed, and all planned trainings and workshops were cancelled indefinitely. “I am technical coordinator of a project to improve the emergency medical services in Uganda, starting in the capital of Kampala. We were immediately aware that we could not abandon our project partners in this difficult time. So, we gathered information and ideas on how to support them in this situation” says Laura Beutler.
The first step was to work on the setting up of an isolation ward in the hospital Lubaga in Kampala, in order to better prepare response to a possible outbreak of Covid-19 and be ready to treat the first few patients needing hospital care. “The Covid-19 outbreak in Uganda risks spiraling out of control if the health system and, above all, the medical staff in the country are not provided with additional support during this period. To guarantee proper patient handling and to avoid further infections of high-risk groups within the hospital, we are setting up an independent isolation unit in the Lubaga hospital. Our project partners cannot be left alone in these difficult times!” says Laura Beutler.
As part of Malteser International emergency management project, the staff of Lubaga Hospital have been trained in emergency care and initial assessment. This knowledge is now being applied to the care of Covid 19 patients.
The lockdown is having a disastrous impact in Uganda: poverty is increasing, and many people are struggling to make an income. Besides the ban on public transport, private cars have also been banned on the streets – with the exception of medical vehicles. This means that in case of medical emergencies only few people can reach a hospital. To this end Malteser International has decided to put its ambulance at the disposal of the Lubaga hospital for the duration of the Covid emergency.
Malteser International has been working in Uganda since 1996. The focus of its work is in bringing aid to refugees, primarily in the north of the country, as well as in the fields of health and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene). The team in the regional office in Kampala also provides logistical support to projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Kenya.
Archive photos, taken before the outbreak of the pandemic Covid-19