When Margaret Ntale Namusisi’s three daughters called her in Uganda to say they were being quarantined at their university in Wuhan, China, because of the coronavirus outbreak, she sent money and told them: “Run very fast and do shopping.”
Valeria, Veronica and Vivian did just that. But nearly one month on, with no help from their government, they are now under lockdown in a crowded apartment with orders to stay indoors with the windows closed. Food, funds and morale are running low.
“They are traumatised,” said Namusisi, who wakes up at 3 a.m. every day to talk to her daughters over the Chinese messaging service WeChat. “They ask, has Uganda given up on us?”
Countries across the world have flown their nationals home from China’s quarantined Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak of the virus that since January has infected more than 74,000 people and killed over 2,100.
“We’ve gone to parliament, we’ve gone to the ministry of health, we’ve gone to the ministry of foreign affairs and taken them our petition to bring back our children,” said Namusisi, nearing tears.
Reuters spoke to families from Cameroon, Uganda, Senegal and Ethiopia with similar tales of frustration. Many have set up associations to pressure their governments to act, through letters and petitions.
Governments across Africa have said they plan to send money to students to help with expenses. Cameroon said it was sending about $82,000 to help its citizens stuck in Hubei.
However, many including Senegal and Uganda, say they do not have the resources to look after coronavirus patients at home and their nationals would be safer in China where authorities have reported a dramatic drop in new cases in Hubei.
But while Uganda said last week that it would send $61,000 to students stuck in Wuhan, the Namusisi sisters have received nothing so far.
They survive on one meal a day of noodles or rice, their mother said. Other foods are now too expensive: one kilo of beef costs $13, one tomato a dollar.