As cases of of COVID-19 decline, most of Uganda’s hospitals have closed units that were designated to treat patients or COVID-19 treatment units.
At the Mulago National Referral Hospital, now patients with severe COVID-19 are being forced to share wards with other critically ill patients following the closure of the COVID-19 treatment Unit. While Uganda and other countries, have since relaxed the rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19 measures, the latest variants and subvariants highlight the criticality of maintaining such hygiene habits and maintaining those treatment units.
A doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity so as to speak freely on the matter, says that they received a severe COVID-19 case on Monday night and was admitted to 4A Ward, which normally hosts patients with breathing difficulties arising from other health conditions.
The doctor, who is worried that the highly contagious disease could kill patients whose immunity is already low due to illness, says that the dedicated COVID-19 unit that housed the High Dependency and Intensive Care Unit in the hospital at the height of the pandemic, has since closed because of the reduction of COVID-19 infections.
Commenting on this development, Dr. Samuel Oledo, the President of the Uganda Medical Association expressed fears that this doesn’t only put patients at risk but health workers too, saying it could spark another upsurge in COVID-19 cases.
David Nuwamanya, the Principal Administrator of Mulago National Referral Hospital declined to comment on the matter and instead referred our reporter to the Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, saying that they were releasing new general guidelines for health units that were handling COVID-19 cases.
Aceng denied closing any treatment units explaining that they can only do this later on when they have vaccinated a reasonable number of the population to guarantee herd immunity.
“Let me explain we are not dismantling structures of covid-19 as of now, until our vaccination coverage reaches 70 percent of the total population. Then we shall be sure that the country has herd immunity. Even as our positivity rate goes down remember that there are over 17 countries right nowwith a serious pandemic. We shall not dismantle the Covid19 units. They shall remain there and in the eventuality that something goes wrong we are prepared,” said Aceng.
But even as the minister said the units are to be maintained the Health Ministry Permanent Secretary, Dr. Diana Atwine directed health workers that had been deployed in the COVID-19 treatment units across the country including the national referral to vacate hospitals latest Wednesday.
In her letter, Atwine says that the reduction in COVID-19 cases coupled with budgetary constraints can’t allow them to retain health workers employed under the emergency response even as they had earlier been validated to be absorbed in health facilities once the pandemic is gone.
“This letter is, therefore, to inform you of the decision and to request you to mainstream the management of COVID-19 into the existing structure to ensure continuity of COVID-19 service delivery in hospitals”, she said.
She directed directors of National and Regional Referral hospitals to ensure proper handover of any government property that may be in the possession of the laid-off staff. Statistics from the Health Ministry released on Tuesday show that only COVID-19 patients are admitted to health facilities across the country. It also shows that the ministry registered nine new cases.
Elsewhere, the BA.2 described by the WHO as a “Omicron variant of concern” has shown that we haven’t seen the end of COVID-19. In the UK for instance, according to the Office for National Statistics, COVID-19 cases rose to 3.5 million people in England last week, marking the country’s second highest peak.
BA.2, known as “the stealth variant,” is a sublineage of the Omicron variant. It is said to be more contagious than the original Omicron variant, BA.1, which was already considered more transmissible and less susceptible to the protection offered by vaccines and previous infections. Researchers have also found Omicron infections can last twice as long on surfaces.
Now, as the main type of COVID-19 in circulation, scientists are warning BA.2 could, at the very best, prevent infection decline and at worst lead to yet another wave. Already, the U.K. is seeing a spike in hospitalisations. Countries such as France, Germany and Italy are also seeing significant numbers and the U.S. is warning its citizens of a potential surge as early as April.