Work and safety: Essential workers in Covid battlefield

Friday May 29 2020



Since March 18, life in Uganda has not been the same. Many people were forced to put their jobs on hold, stay away from public places, among other measures, all as an effort to defeat the coronavirus. But as we fight the mysterious enemy, some jobs cannot be put on hold. The reason why bankers, doctors, security forces, journalists, market vendors, boda bodas had been working when the rest of the workers were forced to stay home. How then do these essential workers go about their essential duties and guard themselves against Covid-19 at the same time?
Solomon Kaweesa, a journalist, like other essential workers, must operate with caution. Kaweesi says he devised strategies to keep his family safe.

Isolation from family
When the virus was imported in Uganda, late March, he decided to stay alone and sent his family to a relative he knew does not leave home for whatsoever reason. “Living with my family with the kind of work I do would put them at risk of catching the virus. We go to places where patients are, interview several people (whose status we don’t know), so you are never so sure you won’t get it,” Kaweesa says.

His coverage has involved interviewing people who have just recovered from Covid-19. These are people the wider public is still hesitant to welcome because they are suspected to still be carrying the virus. Yet Kaweesi has to strike a balance between fighting this unfounded stigma and keeping his guard against a virus so mysterious it limits you from touching your face at will.

Unlike Kaweesa, Sr Anthony Nantume, a Midwife at Mulago hospital, who deals mainly with expectant mothers, still stays with her family, despite the risks that come with the nature of her work. To protect herself and her family, she has to be extra careful.

Safety equipment
Before she steps out of the house, Sr Nantume makes sure her mask is on. When she reaches her workplace, social distancing is mandatory since she cannot be sure which people the others have been in contact with. Reaching at the facility, the first place she goes to after the temperature tests from the gate are done is the hand washing facility, which has soap and running water.

“I also use an alcohol based hand rub that is at the facility. As for the clients, we have a nurse and security guard at the entrance of the hospital to test anyone coming in and make sure their hands are washed and temperature measured before they access the hospital. For emergency calls, the sanitiser is taken to the patients in their cars before entering the hospital,” she says.


Sr Nantume also says trainings from the Ministry of Health creating COVID-19 awareness have been passed on to health workers at the facility with guidelines of how to go about the threat and treating patients on different occasions. This has helped increase safety of both the health workers and patients.

According to Kaweesa, right before the COVID-19 saga, he needed only his crew and media equipment to do his work. Now he is seen interviewing sources behind a mask, holding his microphone from a distance, and wearing gloves. The police also monitor their movement even though they are permitted to move undisturbed. They also have to file a bulk of stories in a very short time since reporters work in shifts. All this feels uncomfortable, he says, but it’s all he must do if he is to rejoin his family safe after the pandemic.

A police officer’s work can be even riskier than that of a journalist. Sisye, an officer at Kanyogoga Police Station, told us his normal day since the first lockdown began, involves dealing with different people from different places. He cannot avoid touching law offenders during arrests, which negates the essence of social-distancing. However, they try to be cautious.

Sisye says: “Washing of hands is mandatory, the reason a water dispenser was brought in front of the police station. This happens because of the communal use of one the thing- especially the registry book, As for arrest, after putting the culprit away in the cells, I wash my hands clean with soap.”

Working in shifts
In order for everyone to keep on working yet few police officers are allowed at the station at a time, Sisye says they work at different times and keep rotating through the workers. “We nowadays work in shifts. Where we used to work more than six people, you will find only two inside the office, on rare occasions, three,” he shares

After work
When he reaches home, Sisye makes sure he is thoroughly clean before entering the house.
Sisye says: “The first thing I do when I reach home is remove my uniform and go directly to the bathroom. I don’t even let my child greet or touch me until I have had my bath. After changing into fresh clothes, I join my family until my next shift.”
For Sr Nantume, the back-home safety routine starts right before she leaves work.
“Before I leave work, I change my uniform to my regular clothes and the mask I have been using is left disposed at the facility. If it is not disposable, I soak it in the disinfectant, and use a different mask on my way home,”she says.
When she reaches home, Sr Natume does not go directly into the house. She washes hands and the fact that they have an outside bathroom helps in the washing up. After bathing, she puts on fresh clothes, leaving the clothes she wore from work soaked then gets into the house.
Use of technology
For Andrew Agaba, a station manager at Voice of Kigezi Radio in Kabale, apart from reporters working from home, he has reduced the number of guests in the studio to two. The rest contribute through telephone calls from the comfort of their homes.

Although the measures may not be a guarantee one will not catch the virus, they contribute a great deal to curbing the spread of the virus.