Fully vaccinated travellers including truck drivers are no longer required to present negative COVID-19 PCR test results before entering Uganda, according to the Health Ministry and in compliance with the East African Community.
Dr. Henry G. Mwebesa, the Director-General of Health Services communicated this position in his March 28, 2022 letter to the health officers of Kasese, Busia, Tororo, Ntungamo, Amuru, Rakai and Kabale districts.
As a result, Mwebesa has directed all private laboratories to exit border points immediately “as it is no longer necessary to conduct any COVID-19 tests at land border points of entry.” Uganda has 53 land border points and one International Airport in Entebbe.
He explains that there will no longer be testing at the land border points because Uganda will recognise COVID-19 test results issued by laboratories that have been jointly accredited by the East African Community -EAC.
The travellers should have taken the tests within 72 hours. Mwebesa says Uganda made the decision to comply with the directives of the EAC Sectoral Council of Ministers that met on January 21st, 2022. In January 2022, the EAC Secretariat convened a joint meeting for ministers for East African affairs, Transport and health after Uganda imposed mandatory testing for all truckers in December.
The move was seen as a trade barrier because over 4,500 trucks got stuck at Malaba and Busia border points from December 20, 2021. It was also regarded as a deviation from the agreed protocols on preventing COVID-19. The meeting resolved that the laboratories would conduct free COVID-19 rapid tests at Busia and Malaba border points for a week to clear the trucks.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the government accredited several laboratories such as MBN Lab, MAIA Medical, Test and Fly and City Medical to conduct COVID-19 testing at Elegu, Mutukula, Katuna, Busia and Malaba borders among others.
Some laboratories had already exited the border points such as Mutukula because of low COVID-19 cases in the country and the relaxation of travel and testing measures in the region.
Paul Okello, the country director of MAIA Medical, says the new directive is a “big blow to laboratories still at the border points”. Adding that, “We have been charging between Shillings 90,000 to Shillings 100,000 per test and testing an average of 140 people at four border points per day. So we were making between Shillings 12.6 million to Shillings 14million daily.”
However, the move to exempt fully vaccinated travellers from undertaking COVID-19 tests. The government also halted mandatory testing for all incoming passengers at Entebbe Airport last month. Prior to that, the government had authorised private laboratories to test all unvaccinated incoming passengers from ten countries including India, South Africa, South Sudan and the United Arab Emirates among others.
As government relaxes testing measures, it plans to set up Port Health services at the border points. In December last year, the Minister for Health Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng noted that the ministry needs Shillings 131 billion to start providing port health services in some parts of the country. She noted that port health is an expensive venture because Uganda’s borders lack the structures, equipment, and workers and yet it is an international requirement.
The World Health Organisation-WHO international Health Regulations, 2005 require countries to maintain health measures and response capacity at designated airports, ports, and ground crossings to prevent and contain the spread of diseases through people, conveyances, and goods.
She says the Ministry is going to develop fully-fledged port health units in a phased manner. So far, infrastructure is being set up at Elegu (border with South Sudan), Mpondwe (DR Congo border), and Busia (Kenya border).