CORONA VIRUS PANDEMIC; THE EFFECTS OF THE OUTBREAK ON THE LIVELIHOODS OF PEOPLE IN NDEJJE AND ITS NEIGHBOURING VILLAGES.
Written by; Nandyose Idah
With the Coronavirus still prevalent around the world, different countries have handled the ongoing health hurdles in different ways.
Ndejje is a village located in Luweero District. It is situated among many other villages in Uganda. Currently there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19. Nonetheless the effect of the lockdown due to Covid-19 in Uganda has been felt by all the villagers.
Ndejje is surrounded by Kisooba, Mawu, Ghetto, Kabuye, Namayamba, and many other villages. Most of the young people in these villages go to the United Arab Emirates for work. UAE is a preferable destination for the youth looking for work abroad simply because the process is cheap, fast and there are endless job offers. For young adults 211 US Dollars per month is a handsome wage. Most of these individuals are currently in the UAE midst the corona outbreak and their families back home are extremely worried about them. Their only means of communication is via social media platforms. Some individuals who were lucky enough to return home prior to the spread of Covid-19 are now in lock down in Uganda. The joy of their return back home, back to their families did not last long because they were branded Covid patients by the residents even before Uganda confirmed any Covid cases.
The news of a Covid Patient travelling from one village to another, was clearly misinformation. Some parents went to the extent of hiding their children - “muva bulaya,” or “basama” local terms used to describe people who have returned from overseas. These parents hid their children because fellow residents kept inquiring about them in reference to Covid-19. The worst case scenario involved villagers in Mawu village who road blocked the path to a young lady’s home, verbally dragged her out of her parents home, tied her to a banana plant in her parent’s garden, accusing her of trying to infect the rest of the villagers with the virus. She was rescued after a nurse intervened, re-assuring and convincing the villagers that the lady was negative.
The most practiced guidelines put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 include; regular washing of hands and maintaining a curfew. However if you take a sample size of 100 people, there will only be one person wearing a mask. This is because the villagers are not accustomed to wearing masks.
The local clinics in the village have seen an increase in the number of patients because of the restrictions on movement. Villagers are left with no option but to be seen by the local nurses. Unfrtunately these clinics do not have enough technical equipment, resources and manpower to treat or diagnose patients with complex diseases like diabetes, Cancer, HIV/AIDS and etc. The prominent hospitals which can treat such diseases are in the urban areas - which are impossible to travel to in the current situation. The only acceptable types of transportation are motorcycles or bicycles.
Bureaucratic procedures require that the guardian of a patient must obtain a formal acceptance letter from the Residence District Commissioner (office is located in Luweero Town which is estimated to be 22 KM from Ndejje) to transport a patient to a hospital. Very few people have lost their lives because of their inability to get to a hospital.
The major economic activity in all these villages is farming. Farmers have been able to feed their family and some people have been kind enough to donate food to others who don’t have any. The economic side of farming has deteriorated because farmers are unable to sell their products. They also fear of not having enough food to feed their families if the lockdown continues. There have been two alleged deaths due to hunger in the neighbouring villages. Very likely true as some families are not lucky enough to have two meals a day - sometimes they have nothing at all. This is disheartening because the government is donating food to residents in urban areas with the assumption that people in the rural areas have enough food to eat. But this is not the case with every household. I urge the government to look both ways.
Small businesses in the area are deteriorating. Every business has been affected in one way or another. Some are closing down because their savings have been used to support families during this pandemic. There appear to be no more funds to operate their businesses when the country reopens. Small grocery shops have seen an increase in sales because people need to buy necessities during this lockdown and the lockdown guidelines encourage the grocery shop owners to stay open.
Small business owners have yet to face real difficulties. They will likely lose their shops to loan cooperatives and banks because of mounting debt. With the largest segment of the population in the area comprised of low income earners, the increased poverty rates might skyrocket. It will be impossible for most parents in Ndejje to send their children to school post Covid-19. Even worse is that some children might drop out of school indefinitely.
The coronavirus outbreak may be irreversible, but the way it will impact our communities is irreversible. It will be up to our law makers and national administrators to try and set policies that will reduce the negative impacts. In truth, post-pandemic, the poor will be poorer. The most affected will be the most unfortunate but we can all change this if we help each other.