June 3, 2020 / 1:16 PM / a month ago

Uganda health workers say they lack vital equipment to fight COVID-19

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Ugandan medical workers say they lack adequate supplies of personal protective equipment for tackling COVID-19 and the risk of infection is making some reluctant to treat patients.

The complaints follow revelations on Sunday that seven health workers including two doctors and two nurses had contracted the virus.

So far the east African nation has 507 cases of COVID-19 with no deaths.

“The situation is critical, many people are working without PPE,” Dr. Mukuzi Muhereza, secretary general for the country’s health workers’ body, the Uganda Medical Association, told Reuters on Wednesday.

Supplies of PPE, or personal protective equipment, such as gloves, face masks, face shields, aprons and others were insufficient in most hospitals, he said.

“That is hampering the fight against COVID-19, because there’s fear among health workers that any time I touch a patient I might be a COVID patient myself,” he said.

Calls for comment to the health ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Ainebyoona, were not answered.

In March, health minister Jane Ruth Aceng said Uganda had received 100,000 masks and 1,100 face shields among other items from Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

The dysfunction in Uganda’s health care system, like in other African countries, has aroused worries at the World Health Organization that a spike in cases could overwhelm response efforts.

President Yoweri Museveni’s government implemented one of Africa’s tightest lockdowns to slow the spread of the outbreak, including shuttering businesses, banning public transport and closing borders.

The lockdown has since been relaxed but borders are still closed and schools shuttered for at least another month as authorities assess the risks of reopening.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Omar Mohammed and Giles Elgood

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