Health experts have emphasised the need for preparedness and response plans if the country is to manage epidemics and pandemics.
Dr Arnold Ezama, the Manager of Epidemics and Pandemics Preparedness Response at Uganda Red Cross Society, and George Patrick Akabwai, a Healthcare practitioner, specialising as a Physician at Baylor Uganda, last week interfaced with members of the fourth estate at Serena hotel in Kampala.
The “Expert Voices Programme”, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a pro-bono project in many countries across the African continent, aims to keep conversations around pandemic preparedness and equitable economic recovery for Africa alive.
“The human race has been known to forget very quickly and thus, keeping conversations around pandemic preparedness and equitable economic recovery for Africa is key for the future. The goal is not to constantly remind about COVID-19 but get people to prepare.”
Hill+Knowlton Strategies, which organised the discussion, is working to build and work with a community of credible and engaged expert voices who will utilize regular media opportunities to disseminate accurate content.
Akabwai, a published author with a keen interest in pandemics and pandemic recovery, says HIV/AIDS, for example, has been a pandemic in Uganda for years.
“Ebola and Covid-19 hit us hard and stimulated us to work smarter and better,” he said while emphasising the need to have a preparedness and response plan.
“Failing to have a plan is planning to fail. We are still open to pandemics. So, we need to utilise the meagre resources to save lives and don’t contain health system.”
Managing resource constraints
Dr Ezama, who was also the Manager of COVID-19 response and part of the team that put together the monthly URCS COVID-19 reports which included challenges, recommendations and lessons learnt, spoke on resource constraints.
According to him, resources are beyond finances. He cited assets in communities like free vaccination programs, the environment which allows people to grow food and address malnutrition, physical assets and educated people/leaders who guide communities.
“We need the intentional and planned direction of these resources, intentional investment in preparedness and intentional analysis of the situation,” he said.
Dr Ezama participated in the MTN #WearItForMe campaign launch to raise awareness about the importance of wearing masks in the fight against coronavirus through a campaign dubbed #WearItForMe across its 21 African and Middle Eastern markets.
According to him, there is a need to identify disadvantaged people and channel resources. “Don’t wait for outbreaks.”
Have we learnt anything from past pandemics?
According to Akabwai, Uganda has managed epidemics and pandemics by applying similar strategies. “Covid response prepared us for ebola response. It built our capacity better.”
He cited the lockdown, saying although it was an extreme intervention, it was timely in curbing infections during the Covid-19 period as well as the Ebola outbreak in Mubende and Kassanda districts.
“We need to embrace these measures as part of life,” he advised Ugandans.
According to Dr Ezama, during the Covid-19 period, we depended on behaviour to limit the spread. “We saw a shift from top-down approach to bottom-top approach.”
He said the Covid-19 taskforces and partnerships have saved the ebola situation.
Akabwai suggests preparations to prevent, providing information, making vaccines available, and investing in the health care infrastructure to ensure even a common person is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to solve inequities.
He also suggests training more healthcare workers and innovating to ensure access to basics as well as risk communication and community engagement.
Dr Ezama, on the other hand, suggests designing interventions with gender sense “because we are disproportionately affected depending on our immunity levels, age, varying genetic materials etc”.
“We must leave no one behind.” He further suggests behavioural change and addressing inequities that have been there before.
He said, for example, quicker business recovery means quicker community recovery. “We must learn to have contingency approaches to be resistant to shocks. We also need to put in place surveillance systems.”
Dealing with vaccination misconceptions
Akabwai acknowledged the presence of vaccination misconceptions and believes engaging communities and finding out why people aren’t getting vaccinated would solve this.
He cited the disinformation (wrong information spread intentionally) and infodemics that pushed people to shun vaccination only to wake up during the second wave of Covid-19.
“Vaccines prevent us from developing severe forms of the disease. Vaccines can give side effects but they can be managed. Vaccines play a huge role in enabling us to stay alive. So, get vaccinated,” he advised.
Dr Ezama too acknowledged vaccine hesitancy but informed the audience that the science around vaccines is improving. “Vaccines are there to protect us physically and arm the body so you don’t get hospitalised.”