As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda wanes, scientists on Tuesday warned of a third wave if there is no persistent behavioral change towards the spread factors.
The scientists told reporters here during a national update on the pandemic that already some African countries are facing the third wave because of lack of strict adherence to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in the prevention of coronavirus.
David Serwadda, an infectious disease epidemiologist and head of the Institute of Public Health at Makerere University said if the public continues to adhere to the prevention measures like avoiding mass gatherings, wearing face masks, hand sanitization among others, the virus can be suppressed to manageable levels.
“If we maintain strict SOPs, we can actually suppress it to such levels that community transmission is not high,” Serwadda said.
Jane Ruth Aceng, minister of health, said prevention of a third wave is dependent on every member of the community. Aceng said while some community members are adhering to the prevention measures, others are not, which poses a risk of a third wave.
She said the second wave has already been detrimental leading to massive infections and deaths. In June, the country used to register 1,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases daily, according to ministry of health figures. The health care system was overwhelmed as hospitals were filled to capacity, forcing government to opt for home based care management.
Government also re-imposed a strict lockdown aimed at plugging the surging infection rates.
Misaki Wayengera, chairperson of the ministerial scientific advisory committee, said while a considerably vaccinated population can be helpful in creating hard immunity, there is emerging evidence that even then, the virus can break through causing a surge in cases.
Ministry of health figures show that for the country to have suppressed the second wave, the infection rate has to be below 5 percent but it is currently at 6 percent.
The ongoing 42-day lockdown, which is scheduled to end on July 30, has had a considerable impact in suppressing the spread of the pandemic, according to the scientists.
Minister Aceng said government has enhanced measures which have interrupted the transmission of COVID-19 among health care workers and the general population. As of July 25, the country recorded 71 cases as opposed to the over 1,000 daily cases that were recorded last month, according to ministry of health figures.
She said the ministry has trained over 301 nurses in critical care. These were deployed to various COVID-19 Treatment Units — both in public and private facilities. An additional 100 nurses are undergoing training and over 180 existing health workers (doctors and specialists) are being re-skilled in oxygen titration, oxygen management, management of the critically ill, and infection, prevention and control.
With support from WHO, experts were hired to enhance the capacity of health workers in management of patients in critical care. The minister said process of capacity enhancement will continue to all regional referral hospitals across the country.
At the district level, government, according to the ministry has provided resources to manage the pandemic from the village level. Village Health Teams carry out community based surveillance and if a case is identified, it is referred through the structures. Some cases are managed at home.
STRIVE FOR VACCINES
Aceng said the country’s COVID-19 mass vaccination program has been slowed down by the global shortage of vaccines on the market where the global demand outweighs the production.
Uganda targets to vaccinate about 22 million people or half the country’s population as means of optimal control of the pandemic and full opening up of the economy. So far only over one million people have been vaccinated, according to the ministry.
“Government is doing all it can to access vaccines for the eligible population 18 years and above. In addition, consideration will be given to children aged 12-15 years with comorbidities,” Aceng said.
She said government has devised approaches of securing the vaccines, which include through donations under the COVAX facility, purchase through the COVAX facility, purchase through the African Union, and purchase of from manufacturers.
The ministry has generated a priority list of COVID 19 vaccines, that can be used in the country and these include AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer BioNTech, Sinovac, Sinopharm, Sputnik V, Sputnik Lite, and Moderna.
The minister said an order of 9 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been placed with the COVAX facility. In addition, an order of 2 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines have been signed up with the African Union and a down payment of 3 million U.S. dollars has been effected.
She said government is studying and assessing the private sector companies that have expressed interest on their capacity to handle and dispense vaccines, and the cold chain.
“Ministry of Health working with the Medical Councils is concluding modalities on the regulation of prices of vaccines and other COVID-19 related services. In due course, the ministry will inform the public on which private sector institutions may carry out vaccination,” Aceng said.