Coronavirus: Big countries need to repair their information systems

Thursday March 19 2020


By Karoli Ssemogerere

On Tuesday, the United States crossed a perilous threshold, 100 deaths from coronavirus. This is a fraction of the annual mortality from the common flu. Millions of Americans take flu shots at the start of the flu season. Many other countries endure the common flu, but it has never attained the level of publicity in the US. There are a number of reasons.

First, the US has a very expensive way of managing the problem through very expensive measures. Before Congress mostly became quiet, we had found out that a simple coronavirus test was $1,100 (Shs4 million). Most life-saving tests are beyond the affordability of ordinary people.

Not much has been heard from the European Medicines Agencies, one of the two EU agencies formerly headquartered in London. The EU is still over 200 million people but the story from there is acute failure.

The Italians abandoned plans to actively treat older people basically letting them die. What a level of preparation and compassion? This is another reality where even small bits of useful information literally disappear the minute cameras shift to the White House. America does not share publicity well.

Even the Chinese whose physical measures largely halted further export of the virus at great economic cost are seriously upset at the labelling of the virus by the Americans as the “Chinese virus”.

The virus has been sufficiently isolated and in a few weeks, will have sufficient documentation for dissemination to the public.


In the last 10 years, a big number of bird flus (avian flu, SARS and the dreaded Ebola), etc, have come into public domain.
Very little follow up has happened, including those related to particular aspects of human conduct; excessive pollution worsened by air-conditioning blamed for a calamitous rise in respiratory stress.

Another sphere of blame comes from food, raw meat, including meat from wild animals. This is mostly a China and Central African problem.

Japan where the population feasts on raw fare, this is not reported so much as a problem. In the DRC, a dressed monkey remains very much a delicacy and many game parks, including in Uganda, still serve game especially the Kob.

The shortage of food that has commercialised the production of poultry, eggs, pork, etc, is another major factor. Growth hormones and the deadly flus that obliterate entire establishments when they attack from conditions like the swine flu.

This is where all major continents are guilty. America’s automated farms, which try to produce a dressed chicken in 21 days, hardly a sign of healthy practices if you say only compute the waste and carnage that have gone into making chicken an everyday meal at an affordable but big cost healthwise.

In Uganda, the public information response has a few heroes. Ugandans seem very happy with the Minister of Health, Dr Ruth Jane Aceng. Her daily address before the cameras has beaten a public health disaster with a stick as big as she could muster.

Just 55 functional ICU beds are in the country, and 200 isolation beds, nowhere close to an ICU bed are on government books. Just imagine what would happen if a few people and VIPs fall sick.
That would be a major failure. The public has shifted an important label to her persona, “trust”. Even her deputy Robinah Nabbanja under the weight of her new appointment, told a memorable story of the 200 Ugandans at the Chinese Embassy applying visas to go back to China to buy stock.

The scenes were comedy. On arrival, she shook hands with everyone. The minister had been very busy in meetings and forgot that this was a risky conduct. Healthcare workers shifted uneasily in their seats. Uganda Airlines may be like a small locust buried in the corona virus pandemic, hopefully it doesn’t shut down. Aviation finances are very tricky.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.