Following the sharp rise of Covid-19 cases in the second wave of the global pandemic, the government imposed yet another lockdown in an attempt to halt the trend. The second wave has exposed the dysfunctional health-care system of the country riddled with high corruption putting many lives at risk. Throughout this season the media has been flooded with stories of rising death rates, understaffed and inadequate hospitals, dishonest health officials stealing medicine and medical equipment, and poor physicians and nurses whose pay barely keeps them afloat. Worse, during a healthcare system crisis, a farce of a Covid-19 relief fund was provided without divulging the procedure for distribution.
Several activists and Human Rights Defenders across the country have stood up to criticize the government on the poor health facilities and inadequacies despite having received trillions of shillings in aid during this period. Our chapters across the country joined in a peaceful national campaign dubbed “Reform Healthcare” demanding that the health-care system be fixed and government accounts for the covid19 relief funds spent.
The Arua chapter composed of mostly youth activists and organisers held a peaceful demonstration which they concluded with a presser where they called out the government for the irregularities and corruption that have marred the covid19 relief strategy and the healthcare system.
“Many Ugandans continue to die at the hands of an inadequate health care system. This money is not bad but what principles is the government setting? The government should have used these funds to refurbish health care facilities and systems because they are shrinking and crushing. There are only 17 oxygen gas cylinders in Arua Referral Hospital and many other hospitals are not equipped enough to handle many patients at the peak of the pandemic,” Kenzo West, youth organizer, Arua Chapter.
In Bushenyi, our chapter members marched to the mayor’s offices at Kyamuhunga town council with placards condemning the government for mismanaging the Covid19 response funds. In Ibanda, the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Seifa Katabazi, and the District Principal Health Inspector, Musinguzi Ndyanabo, chased away chapter members saying they should seek the audience of the Prime minister to address their grievances amidst a national lockdown.
In Lubaga, central Uganda, four activists from the Lubaga social justice center were brutally arrested at a press conference where they were demanding proper accountability for the covid19 relief funds the arrested activists were; Buwembo Habib, Kajambiya Moses Sharif, Matanda Justus and Bright. They were released after two days as a result of the pressure mounted on the authorities through our rapid response network.
In Kamwenge, the RDC, Cadre Mucunguzi Geoffrey, could not let the chapter members present their grievances, following this resistance they moved their peaceful demonstration to the district’s taxi park where they continued to expose the failing healthcare system in the area and demanded for refurbishing of the health facilities to support Covid-19 patients. Several community members joined the demonstration on realizing their cause.
The Kyambogo students spearheaded by the current Guild President held a press conference at the main campus and expressed their dissatisfaction with the health-care system and the manner in which the COVID19 funds have been handled. They demanded the government to make greater efforts to fix the health-care system before it fully collapses. They urged that the government take necessary steps to repair the education system, which COVID 19 has brought to a halt. They recommended the government to consider mass vaccination of students and increase the institutional funding to enable them implement SOPs.
Our comrades in Kampala chastised the government for mishandling the COVID-19 response funding and failing to support the health- care institutions causing the sector to slowly crumble. The activists led Nana Mwafrika, our 2020 activist of the year demanded that all those in charge of handling the funding be dismissed or resign; beginning with Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Sectretary of Ministry of Health.
In Amuru and Kyegegwa, women were at the forefront of this campaign. The women in Amuru marched to the office of the RDC with placards displaying their demands while those in Kyegegwa marched to the nearest sub-county headquarters at the office of the LC III where they presented their demands.
In Kumi, the chapter members hijacked a Covid-19 task force meeting where the RDC was addressing his team at the District Local Government headquarters. Some chapter members disguised as medical officers dressed in white clinical coats joined the group to highlight the plight of the frontline workers who have struggled with the lack of PPE and the persistent lack of medical equipment. Feeling exposed, the RDC threatened the chapter members using the observance of SOPs as an excuse.
Several activists have continued to highlight the dysfunctionalities in the healthcare system that have been greatly exposed by the Covid19 pandemic. They are able to make the connection between corruption and the persistent lack of accountability by government institutions.
Many activists believe the Covid-19 relief fund was meant to divert Ugandans’ attention away from the government’s initial failings and mismanagement of the Covid-19 donations and funds during the first wave. Unfortunately for the government, several Ugandans figured that out and they continue to hold them accountable amidst intimidation and corrupted systems.