In March, when President Yoweri Museveni temporarily banned public transport and private cars on the road to spread curb the spread of coronavirus said that vulnerable groups of people with private cars could seek permission letters from the Resident District Commissioners (RDC). Additionally, there would also be private vehicles deployed at the District Health Offices (DHOs), ready to help in case of any emergencies. But there have been challenges accessing the letters from the RDCs and the private vehicles at the DHOs. Some vulnerable groups of people have complained of the bureaucracy involved in accessing letters, the long lines, bribery, or simply being ignored because their problem is not deemed worth issuing a letter for.
For others, although they did not have medical conditions, they were desperate to get to a certain area to do their work or join their family. And so, many have resorted to walking, an alternative that does not require one to have a permission letter. Below are some of the experiences people have gone through.
Walking while heavily pregnant was difficult
Julian Namatovu (names have been changed to protect her privacy) had a doctor’s appointment in Ntinda Hospital, located in the outskirts of Kampala city centre.
She had found challenges getting a permission letter from the RDC and opted to walk to the hospital for treatment. Incidentally, Namatovu, and her husband, have a mutual friend, a police officer who sometimes gives them a lift to hospital for checkups and treatment but on one particular day he was unavailable as he was on duty.
Namatovu set off at about 10am from her residence in Bweyogerere, another suburb located in the outskirts of the city centre. For the walk (which took place during the first week of April) the expectant mother (who was seven months pregnant at the time) wore open shoes and a blue knee-length dress. She carried three bottles of water and was accompanied by her husband.
From Bweyogerere, the duo joined the Northern-Bypass, walked straight until they reached the first round-about and connected to the road to Ntinda. Along the bypass they met many people jogging, exercising and talking walks. It was therefore a bit inconveniencing to try and walk amidst the many numbers of people.
Another issue was the sun shining brightly in the sky.
“It was quite challenging being a very hot day,” she says. “I had to stop and rest from time to time. Sometimes I stood or sat under a shed. After a couple of minutes, we resumed walking.”
Namatovu says her husband was very patient and understanding with her during the walk. The continuous conversation they had during the journey made the journey a little bit easier. They reached the hospital at around 12.30pm.
They were not so many people at the facility, says Namatovu. And it is probably why her doctor was able to attend to see her immediately.
“He saw me for about 30 minutes and part of the treatment involved receiving an injection,” she says.
After seeing the doctor, Namatovu rested for a few more minutes before embarking on the return journey home. They left the hospital at about 1.30pm using the same routes used earlier when walking to the health facility, from Ntinda to the Northern-Bypass and finally to Bweyogerere. They applied the previous strategies of walking and resting under sheds. At some point though, Namatovu got really exhausted and worn out.
“I got very tired. But thank God, I had my husband by my side who constantly encouraged me to take as many breaks as I could,” she says. Namatovu says she took more than 20 breaks along the way.
The couple arrived home, at about 4pm. Immediately, Namatovu took a shower and went to bed to rest.
“I slept off to regain my energy,” she says. Namatovu says later that evening, she had pain in her joints which the doctor said was normal because she had walked for long something she was not used to. Also, the baby didn’t make even a single movement for two days after that which worried her but the doctor told her that the baby was just tired and she should not worry about that.
Overall, Namatovu says the walking experience was exhausting but then again, there was nothing to do especially during the ongoing crisis.
When the lockdown was effected, Namatovu says she did not get an opportunity to do enough shopping for the baby’s arrival.
“I am so worried right now because I don’t have enough items for me and the coming baby. Then, I am required to go to office in Kampala and meet the human resource manager to fill in a few health insurance forms. If I don’t find a way of going to office and fill in those forms, I might find a few challenges accessing treatment when the baby is finally due.”
Namatovu hopes that the lockdown is removed so that she and many other expectant mothers can have stress free deliveries. She is now eight months along in her pregnancy.
I had to walk to save my eyes
About six years ago, Fancy Nassimbwa was diagnosed with short sightedness (such people have trouble seeing objects in the distance clearly). Since the idea of wearing prescribed eyeglasses to correct the problem was not one she fancied, Nassimbwa downplayed the condition by hoping that one day, she would be fine by constantly including fruits such as mangoes and carrots in her diet. Fruits have different nutrients including Vitamin A essential for healthy eye vision.
“Well, the fruits were helpful but only for a while, “Nassimbwa says.
At the beginning of this year, the eye problem became severe with and migraines. Finally, she realised that she needed to get the glasses.
On Wednesday, April 15, Nassimbwa got up to walk from her place of residence in Nabweru, a suburb located in the outskirts of Kampala to Mengo hospital (located in the city centre) to seek treatment.
“For starters, I don’t have a personal car so there was no need of going to the RDC requesting for a letter. Though the president said there were other transport options, I did not want to also go through that hustle of getting a vehicle to take me to hospital. There must be a lot of bureaucracy (paper work) involved in those things. And besides, what if there are people with more urgent medical conditions than mine who need the cars?” she says.
It was for such reasons, Nassimbwa opted to walk to hospital. She set off at about 10am wearing black leggings, a black sleeveless dress shirt, a pink light colored trench coat and a pair of black and white sneakers. In addition, she carried a phone, earphones, handkerchief, some tissue and money.
She tried walking as fast as her legs could take her. But it was not easy.
“Not only was I feeling pain in my eyes and legs but the weather was also inconsiderate to me that day. At one point, it was chilly and drizzling,” she says, adding, “Thank God the sun later came out.”
The fashion designer says she found comfort in knowing she was finally going to see a doctor who would attend to her. She also felt a little bit at ease because there were other people also walking on the road. For most of the time, she distracted herself by reading information on billboards and admiring recently renovated walkways.
Finally, at 11.30am, she arrived at the hospital.
“It was pure joy reaching the hospital gate. Upon entry, I washed my hands and thereafter, the security guard took my temperature. He then signaled that everything was alright before letting me proceed,” she says.
Nassimbwa discovered that consultation fees for general patients had increased from Shs10,000 to Shs35,000. She managed to pay consultation fees and part of the fee for the prescribed glasses because of insufficient funds.
“I only managed to make a deposit of Shs100,000 for the glasses with the remaining amount of money I was left with,” she says.
By 2.45pm, Nassimbwa was done seeing the doctor. She then embarked on her return journey home. By this time, she was not only hungry but frustrated as she had failed to secure the glasses.
“The anger and hunger made the return journey quite difficult. I was no longer walking but rather pulling my legs through the dust,” she says.
At some point, she remembered she had carried her phone and earphones and so decided to play gospel music to lighten up her spirit.
She arrived home at about 4.40pm sweating, tired, hungry and in pain. Her concerned neighbours looked at her in utter disbelief wondering what had happened to her. She told them the story took a shower, prepared a meal for herself before jumping into bed. The following day, she could hardly get out of bed due to the previous day’s exhaustion.
Nassimbwa was eventually able to pay for the glasses after a dear friend who prays with her at the same church heard about her predicament. This friend rallied others and raised Shs230,000, the exact amount needed to clear off the pending balance for the glasses.
Upon receiving the money, Nassimbwa walked back to Mengo hospital and cleared off the arrears. And after receiving the glasses, she walked back home. Unlike her previous walk, she says this one was not as tough as the first one.
Despite the pain encountered during the walk, Nassimbwa says she is grateful for the lessons learned from the experience. She learnt new routes including short cuts that lead to and from her home; the essence of having medical insurance; and appreciation for her family members and friends more who came to her rescue a difficult time.