Every day, a hundred mothers, often as many as two hundred, take their children in various stages of malnutrition to Mulago Hospital’s acute ward. Depending on the severity of their condition, the kids are distributed to either Mwana Mugimu Nutrition Unit, ENT ward, Cerebral Palsy and a few others.
Some of the children are in shock, severely malnourished, hanging precariously onto life, their bodies already getting cold. Even those not in immediate danger are on the speedway there unless they receive urgent help.
Some of them are special needs kids whose parents struggle to feed them, others have cleft palates that do not permit normal breastfeeding, others are in that state because their mothers are struggling to lactate, or simply because they don’t have mothers, perhaps because they died in child birth (20 mothers go down that path every day, and that’s on ordinary days. During lockdown, the figure has to swell).
Through various medical interventions, or just the use of therapeutic milk, or by teaching mothers how to re-lactate, a very high percentage of these children are brought back to normal life from the cusp of death.
But because of the lockdown, the Acute Ward is now a ghost town. The nurses who save the children’s lives are not considered ‘essential workers’, and even if they were, they couldn’t make it to the hospital without commercial transport. And, of course, the mothers cannot bring their children for the same reason.
And so, President Museveni’s 42-day involuntary house arrest was a direct death sentence for hundreds of those children every single day. They are being mourned and buried quietly in their indigent homes, along with hundreds, possibly thousands, of other daily lockdown fatalities, away from the glare of the media and publicity reserved only for Covid victims.
Their blood is on the hands of the President; but not just him, the Ministry of Health officials who are spending a big fraction of their budget on fueling the media hysteria and all the wider net of COVID profiteer-ers are just as culpable.
But the scope of blame spreads even wider. There’s a group of pseudo-elites who are cheering the lockdown because it accentuates their miniature privilege. They exult in their badge as “essential workers”, which in actuality is just another word for foreman or taskmaster, whose job it is to act as a linkman between the oppressor and the oppressed. It is the taskmasters who sustain the oppressive system because of the elevation it gives them. They are the ones pretending that lockdown is serving any purpose.
But who is an “essential worker, and who isn’t?
Try telling a man who is staring at his starving family and has nothing to feed them that he is not an essential worker. To his hungry dependents, that man is more essential than the president and all his cabinet combined.
It’s these taskmasters who are on Social Media reveling over Kampala’s ‘cleaner air’. Driving in the city without holdups feels to them like a badge of honor, and for that they will support the regime to continue locking up the ‘riff-raffs’ and those bolshie taxi drivers who will just not stay in their lane. It doesn’t matter to them at what cost their little privilege comes, just as long as they have it.
They may not state it explicitly, but the sad truth is many of Uganda’s A and B class have subconsciously settled into a routine where certain deaths matter and others don’t. There’s no prizes for guessing to which category they think they belong. In their minds, the kids who die of malnutrition belong in the other category. So too bad for them. If they believed in re-incarnation, then in their next life they should be born into elite households. Only then, might they have a chance at a full life. That’s how far we’ve fallen as a nation. And we cannot blame it all on politicians.
This lockdown experiment has given birth to one hypothesis; the best cure for empathy is privilege. Get a random Ugandan, give him some elevated status, no matter how small, and watch his heart lose all its sensitivity as he tramples on everyone beneath him.
A scientific peer-reviewed study done by Stanford University in America showed that the first lockdown did little to nothing in curbing the spread of COVID. It was a bad idea then, and it’s even worse now seeing as we know what we know. Eventually we shall have to open our society and learn to live with Covid. Yesterday wouldn’t be soon enough.
Joseph Kabuleta is a former Presidential Candidate and a pastor.