COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupts Public Health Service Delivery systems in Gulu District

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Uganda

This report highlight how the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting public health delivery systems in Northern Uganda

Health officials in Gulu District say the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting access to important health services.

According to the health officials, people living with HIV/Aids, Diabetic and Cancer patients and expectant mothers are the most affected following the ban on public transport as one of the measures to curb further spread of Coronavirus (disease).

Sister Grace Anena, a senior nursing officer in charge of midwives in the office of Gulu District Health Officer (DHO) said the health department is facing a lot of challenges due to the lockdown.

Sister Anena noted that boda-boda motorbike taxi was the main means of transport especially for communities living in the rural part of Gulu District.

“The lockdown has resulted into a lot of challenges in accessing healthcare services. The ban on public transport made it hard for patients to travel to access healthcare services. This has resulted in drop in number of expectant mothers coming to deliver at the health facility,” Anena explains.

Anena was participating in the Kabake Community Radio Programme on Mega FM on May 24, 2020.

Kabake is a radio program aired on 102 Mega FM, one of the leading radio stations in northern Uganda every Sunday between 10AM and 12noon.

Mega FM has partnered with Konrad Adenuer Foundation to give a platform to communities who are still recovering from the effect of the over two decades LRA led insurgency to discuss issues related to post-war recovery, social justice, health and education, gender-based violence and land rights among others.

According to Anena, the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions have also affected the referral system.

“Due to the restrictions, we are suspecting that the expectants mothers are now turning to traditional birth attendants for help. The number of expectants who are visiting health facilities have also dropped,” adds Anena.

Ms Florence Angee, the Local Council One Chairperson for Angwee sub-ward in Laroo Division in Gulu Municipality attributed the drop in the number of patients visiting government health facilities to the fear of catching Coronavirus.

“Once our people learnt that the first Covid-19 patient was admitted at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, they got too scared. They are afraid of the disease because of lack of knowledge of how it is spread,” explains Ms Angee.

But Sister Anena urged patients to continue visiting health facilities.

She explained that health workers have been trained and they are aware of the safety guidelines to protect patients from catching the viral disease that majorly affects the respiratory system.

“There are strict guidelines in place to ensure that clients who visit health facility are safe. So, I encourage anyone who is feeling sick to visit anyone health facility because they are open and healthcare workers are ready to provide appropriate treatment,” said Anena.

She also encouraged parents to ensure that their children are vaccinated and sleep under insecticide treated mosquito nets.

However, Richard Okot, a resident of Patiko Sub County in Gulu District who participated in Kabake Community Radio Programme through a phone call said although health facilities are open, it is hard to get treatment.

“I took my sick mother to Gulu Regional Referral Hospital but they (medics) never gave her even a paracetamol. They told us to go and buy drugs from private drug shop,” claims Okot.

He adds that the experience makes coming to the hospital waste of time.

On May 15, Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the State Minister for Health In- Charge of Primary Healthcare said she has received reports that healthcare workers at the government health facility is turning patients away.

“I received reports that healthcare workers are not offering medical treatment to patients. That is wrong and should never has happened. I urged you (healthcare worker) to continue attending to patients and give their best” says Dr Moriku.

Another caller who identified herself only as Jennifer, said the Coronavirus has also affected healthcare workers.

“I recently went to Techo Health Centre II in Layibi Division (Gulu Municipality), I can tell you, my experience was not nice. The nurses were rude. They (nurses) were barking at the patients. I left there more traumatized. I think, government needs to ensure that those in the frontline (healthcare workers) in the fight against Coronavirus receive psychological support,” says Ms Jennifer.

William Onyai, the Gulu District Health Educator agrees but said government is already provided psychosocial support to healthcare workers.

“We frequently assess healthcare workers mental health state wand provide them with psychosocial support if needs be. Such service is also geared towards countering the effect of Coronavirus on the mental health on those in the in frontline in the fight against Coronavirus,” said Onyai.

Onyai also warned communities against self-medication.

“If you are sick, go to the nearest health facility and get help from professional healthcare workers. If you chose to treat yourself, you are likely to develop drug resistance. I strongly encouraged TB and HIV/Aids patients to strictly follow doctor’s advice. Do not default on your drugs. Take it as advised by a physician.  Otherwise you will develop complications. That is very dangerous,” warned Onyai.

He also appreciated Kabake Community Radio Programme saying it has helped the health department to reach out people who are need to health advice as they battle the fear caused by pandemic.

Due to the lockdown, Gulu and Amuru Districts have seen outbreak of scabies and Malaria.

Health facilities such as Anaka General Hospital in Nwoya District has also experience blood shortage due the upsurge in cases of Malaria.

The government has since the number of aneamic patients doubles in the last two months pushing the number for demand for blood for transfusion from 45 in a month to 100.

Majority of the patients requiring blood transfusion are expectant mothers and children under 5.

Walter Odong Kitama, a resident of Pece, a suburb of Gulu Town asked government not to focus on only providing healthcare services but financial stimulus to bail out business which have been badly hit by the lockdown restrictions.

On May 26, businesses dealing in general merchandize across the country opened after President Museveni eased the lockdown restrictions recently, to protect the economy from collapse.