Let’s be compassionate and play our part.

Amy Rutland shares what been on her heart during this global pandemic.

“Having visited Uganda on a Fields of Life fact finding mission, I felt compelled to write something to draw attention to, and inspire compassion for those living in East Africa who will be greatly impacted by COVID-19.

For those who are living hand to mouth with no savings, those who don’t have a national health service to rely on, those who live in densely populated communities, often without access to clean water or handwashing facilities, this will be a particularly difficult time.

I’m picturing being in this situation, with all your neighbours in the same desperate position and no state support to fall back on. I imagine having to get up and walk for miles to collect water even though you and your family are sick, to crowd round a single well. Because there is no choice in the matter. No antibacterial spray to wipe it down, no masks, no gloves. There is a plethora of additional problems to overcome in comparison to the UK.

Currently in Uganda, hospitals are difficult to access due to the ban on private vehicles and public transport. Once at hospital, there are very few ventilators available, and oxygen supply can be unreliable due to electricity supply. If people cannot pay for their hospitals, then there will be even less money available to purchase equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE). As we have already seen in the UK, the purchase and supply of this equipment is not simple, and in Uganda there is simply not the infrastructure to build new hospitals as has happened in the UK and China. Finite money means tough decisions will need to be made around what is most important; ventilators, PPE or testing kits?

Shutting down the whole economy isn’t possible without having immediate severe consequences. Already, individual incomes have dropped through lack of markets to sell produce, and reliance on subsistence farming means food prices will be hiked. Many will go without food. Businesses will suffer because working from home will not be easy due to the lack of reliable electricity and internet connection in villages.

Awareness raising, and the spread of public health messages is key; consider how much we are relying on the news in the UK at the moment. Fields of Life already has a large active network across East Africa, and being based in-country where decisions are made by local people means they are in a strong position to respond effectively. As well as providing handwashing facilities and awareness raising, they are looking to resource an emergency telephone support service to provide accurate and reliable information to rural communities.

The first COVID-19 case in the UK was on 31st January, whereas the first case in Uganda was on 21st March. Action must be taken now to help prevent the virus taking hold in East Africa, because if not, put bluntly, it will be difficult to prevent mass fatalities.

However, what is inspiring is how far money can go in East Africa, and what a genuine impact it can have. For example, £50 can educate a whole rural community about handwashing. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual situation, something you’ll remember in future years. Choose to remember the positive contribution we made to this collective effort. Let’s be compassionate and play our part.”

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