By Joseph Nyero
My favorite Chinese saying is; “if you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a life time, HELP SOMEBODY.” This is a saying that they have taken very seriously!
I needn’t say it but for emphasis I will, a sick nation cannot develop! Imagine you had to go to work with fever, difficulty in breathing, sore throat, aches, pain and cough. Currently, the world is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought the entire world to its knees. We have been taught that prevention is better than cure and we agree but what if we can’t entirely prevent a disease because its airborne and yet we still have to walk around looking for food. The next option would be going for a cure except there isn’t one and that’s why high-income countries with sophisticated medical systems that a country like Uganda can only admire have terribly crushed down. If something befalls the jungle and leaves the lions down, the sheep don’t go running around, they take shelter. It brings us down to the only shelter that we have learnt with time about the noble disease, vaccinating. What this does is to reduce transmissibility and mortality and prevent the severe form of the disease. All that has to be done is to vaccinate the highest percentage of the population so that even those that haven’t been vaccinated benefit from herd immunity.
Unfortunately for developing countries like Uganda, purchasing covid-19 vaccines has proved to be a very difficult, since developed countries pre-ordered almost all produced vaccines and others opted to hoard them until all their citizens are fully immunized. This has left many countries including Uganda unable to access these vaccines on market on top of the vaccines being super expensive. Even Covax facility which was started to help developing countries vaccinate their citizens experts say it vaccines at their disposal now cannot even vaccinate 20% of population in developing countries. This means developing countries like Uganda cannot fully vaccinate their citizens without support of other developed countries.
This means many developing countries are going to continue struggling in terms of health capacity and hence, the need for support. In sprit of Ubuntu and Chinese president’s philosophy of a community with shared future for mankind, also known as community of common destiny for mankind, China has embraced medical diplomacy by donating 300,000 doses of the vaccine to Uganda. Also earlier donated to support Uganda’s health sector in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic are; 20 tons of cornmeal, mattresses, sanitizers, blankets, masks, gloves. Even Chinese individual citizens such as Jack Ma himself, a successful entrepreneur that has inspired many Ugandans donated medical supplies. All the above extended in times of need is a clear evidence that friends in need are our friends indeed!
These vaccines are going to go a long way in relieving the effects of COVID-19 in Uganda. The cases began as numbers which shortly turned into names of people we know. With no particular selection criteria, rich or poor, families have broken down leaving behind orphaned children. The people are mostly senior citizens like Uganda’s ambassador to Sudan that are not only important to their families as bread winners but also crucial to the development of the country. The people they leave behind commonly drop out of school, can’t find food and its not rare that they become depressed. These are gaps that will never be filled. We have all been depressed because of loosing someone we know. These vaccines are a strong thread of hope to ending this otherwise unending nightmare.
Currently, Uganda is under lockdown. During the recent presidential address, schools will remain closed and the situation reassessed after 60 days. Before this second lockdown, millions of students did not report to school despite the opening of schools meaning that these dropped out. These are children who are highly motivated with dreams that they wanted to see through. Some of them like me, are the only educated people in their families with a strong desire to finish school and break their families free from the chains of poverty. The awareness that some of the young girls are ending up with teenage pregnancies or being married off as early as 14 years breaks me down to the bones. The opening of schools has been coupled to the vaccination of a significant percentage of the teachers and students. These vaccines will give a huge forward push towards opening up of schools.
A high proportion of Ugandans meet their expenses from their daily incomes. Having a lock down therefore means that they will run short of food, rent, name it. It would really be unfortunate for such a person to catch the severe form of the disease which the vaccine prevents. How can someone who is struggling to find the days food afford 5 million Uganda shillings which is the daily bill of a private hospital to manage someone who is critically ill? This is why we are so thankful for the vaccines from China.
They haven’t only began boosting the medical system of Uganda since the pandemic. China has over the past 36 years donated medical equipment worth $8 million. They didn’t just dump the equipment here! They likewise sent 21 teams of over 200 doctors to show us how to use these equipment and work in our hospitals too. China has also been a significant part of the Ebola emergency prevention and control program that has prevented Ebola outbreaks in Uganda or the spread of outbreaks from Congo. China built the center for disease control. This puts Uganda at a better position, a head of local epidemics due to the preventive nature of the facility. The china-Uganda friendship hospital built in 2012 has reduced maternal mortality rate by 99%, operated on over 7,000 patients and delivered 22,000 mothers annually. These are people who walked into the gates of the hospital full of agony, desperation, uncertainty and trying to find something to hold onto. They walked out of the gates as though reborn, with smiles and full of hope ready to pursue their dreams. As a medical student, I haven’t known more joy than that of patients improving because that’s the call and nobility of the medical profession.
Thanks to China, Uganda is now slowly but steadily crawling out of a poor medical system as they are donating very expensive medical equipment, teaching us how to use them and bringing in expertise and practices that made them breakthrough. It won’t be long till we are there. A dream becoming true!
Joseph Nyero is a fourth-year medical student at Makerere University and a research fellow at Development Watch Centre, a Foreign Policy Think Tank.