Education minister Janet Museveni has called for an emergency meeting with technocrats tomorrow at State House to discuss the reopening of medical schools.
In a televised address on Friday during which he eased the nationwide lockdown, President Museveni said students studying medicine and related courses should be allowed to resume studies since they double as “health workers”.
Trainee doctors and nurses mandatorily undertake internship during which they do clinical work at hospitals, helping in large part to attend to patients and run operations at admission wards.
Education, Health and National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) officials are expected to attend tomorrow’s meeting.
Mr Ismail Mulindwa, the director of Basic and Secondary Education, who also leads the Covid taskforce in the Education ministry, yesterday confirmed the meeting and said Ms Museveni will communicate the outcomes of the meeting.
“There is a meeting on Wednesday [tomorrow] at State House called by Ms Museveni to discuss the reopening of medical schools. We shall be able to say something after that meeting,” he said.
The NCHE executive director, Prof Mary Okwakol, said: “We are yet to meet to discuss the fate of medical schools. We shall make the final decision after that meeting.”
In starting the reopening of educational institutions with medical schools, the government appears to reapply its strategy of last year in which it prioritised students of health sciences over others to resume studies originally suspended in March 2020 when Uganda registered its index Covid-19 case.
Afterwards, the government reopened schools and other classes in a phased manner until when it shut down the country in June when the last pupils were due to resume studies.
This means that, besides nursery schools whose reopening is uncertain, children in primary I to III classes have waited home for nearly two years now.
In his Friday address, President Museveni tied schools’ reopening to sufficient vaccination and, like his wife Janet said on the same day, broached the idea that students aged 12 and above, who were originally not in targeted immunisation groups, should first be vaccinated before going back to school.
Education ministry officials in the meantime should provide learning materials to enable virtual learners, the President said.
To-date, Uganda has only immunised 1.1m people, roughly 5 per cent of the 21.9 million, citing failure to secure vaccines due to global competition.
It remains unclear where and how the government will secure vaccines enough to inoculate millions of students aged 12 and above when it has, in almost a year, failed to get enough jabs for the adult population.
Uganda’s continued closure of schools, contrasts with the practice in neighbouring countries, suggesting a lack of unified approach by the East African regional bloc whose common value to citizens should be demonstrable in a moment of crisis such as the current one illuminated by the pandemic.
In Kenya, for instance, schools reopened last week for all learners, without preferential vaccination for the students.
As of August 2, Kenya had Covid registered 203,680 cases, with 3,987 deaths, the highest in the region.
On the other hand, Rwanda with 71,346 confirmed infections and 821 deaths, reopened its learning institutions yesterday for the third term after the government lifted the 15-day lockdown in Kigali and eight other districts.
Rwanda’s Ministry of Education said the reopening will enable students to complete the school calendar that was interrupted when all learning institutions were forced to close on June 29 by a spike in infections, a rise in the number of deaths and the presence of the Delta variant.
“Local authorities will offer necessary facilitation for teachers and learners, and will make sure that learning resumes while diligently observing Covid-19 protocols,” the ministry said in a notice to school administrators, teachers, learners and education partners.
“The ministry calls upon schools to observe Covid-19 preventive measures, which include physical distancing, proper wearing of face masks, hand washing with clean water and soaps or use of sanitisers, and keeping windows open.”
Rwanda third term for schools, the shortest with 47 days, runs ends on September 17.
In Tanzania, schools reopened in June with the government saying it was revising its earlier guidelines.
President Samia Hassan Suhulu has adopted a markedly different response to the pandemic, taking Covid jabs and proclaiming that her country was not an “island” to behave uniquely.
Tanzania has to-date only declared 1,017 confirmed cases with 183 recoveries and 21 deaths on the back of Magufuli-imposed information blackout.
Institutions, students speak out
Mr Nelson Ssewanyana, the Makerere University Guild health minister, also a fourth-year medical student, said the government decision to reopen medical schools is overdue considering their stop-gap roles at regional and national referral hospitals. “The decision has been delayed for a long time because most government hospitals are operated by interns who are graduate students from medical institutions with supervision by senior doctors,” he said, adding: “When we do not have these people to replace the existing ones who spend a year in these hospitals, then we shall see shortage and patients will not have people to attend to them.” The chairperson of the Association of Principals of Health Training Institutions, Ms Rose Nassali, said they are waiting for government guidance on how to reopen.