How nurses kept Uganda’s coronavirus deaths low 

Ms Lilibet Karugaba, the head of nursing at UMC Victoria.The nurses have asked the government to increase their salaries like it is doing for the doctors. PHOTO/ TONNY ABET

What you need to know:

  • The nurses asked the government to hire more personnel.
  • Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, said they have paid all the salaries and that what the health workers are demanding is the allowances which the government is getting resources to clear.

Uganda registered its first Covid-19 case in March 2020. Since then at least 164,000 have been infected, of which 3,596 succumbed to the pandemic.
Yesterday, the country marked the International Nurses Day under the theme Nurses: A Voice to Lead - Invest in Nursing and respect rights to secure global health.
During the main celebration in Kampala, some of the nurses, who treated Covid-19 patients, narrated how the pandemic affected them.

 Ms Bonietor Amanya, a nursing officer who worked in the Mulago hospital Covid-19 treatment unit, said she took a big risk when she agreed to join the team treating coronavirus patients. 
Ms Amanya said she contracted Covid-19 several times while in the line of duty and to date, her lungs have never healed.

 “In Uganda, we reached a point when we didn’t have oxygen and we rolled cylinders, our backs ached, we worked for more than six or eight hours in [hot] coveralls because we couldn’t leave the patients on the ground,” she said.
She added: “The workload was a lot. Our colleagues died. Our families ran away from us because we were exposed to the pandemic.”

Ms Maria Nantayi, another nurse, said she and other colleagues had a bad reaction to the personal protective equipment (PPE).
“People got out when their eyes couldn’t see any more. The googles and masks would burn your face because of working for long hours. You could not leave the patient to die because your shift is ending,” Ms Nantayi said.
“We carried people’s buckets with faeces and urine, changing diapers of 70-year-olds, the smell is not pleasant at all,” she added. 

She said the number of patients at the unit often overwhelmed the health workers.
“We had to feed them because they couldn’t eat on their own. Sometimes they fall down and you have to carry them alone because everyone was occupied. The nurse to patient ratio was like 1:30 because you could have like 100 patients and you are eight nurses in that room,” she said.
Mr Justus Cherop Kiplangat, the president of Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union (UNMU), said there are around 27,000 nurses employed by the government, a number he said is too low compared to the current population.

Mr Kiplangat said the country has more than 120,000 nurses, many of them serving in private facilities or unemployed.
“We can’t continue using a scheme of service which is for 1995 and the population by then was 15 million and now we are about 45 million people. Government should restructure the health system so that we accommodate our incoming nurses and paramedics. People go for diplomas and degrees and they come back and get stuck. We should be involved in the policy formulation,” he said.
Ms Amanya, the national mobiliser for more than 700 health workers whose contracts were terminated after the decline of hospitalised Covid-19 patients, said the government should clear their arrears and reabsorb them. 
“We are demanding salary for June and July,” she said.
Uganda Medical Association says the Covid-19 workers were bridging the service gap in hospitals as they worked beyond the Covid-19 treatment centres.

Ms Lilibet Karugaba, the head of nursing at UMC Victoria, a private health facility, said they recognise the selfless services rendered by nurses to the world.
“I am celebrating our front liners who exhibited resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic. When family members were scared and were not sure of what to do while taking care of their beloved in hospital, those nurses kept around those patients in those coveralls and protective gear to make sure the patients survive. We celebrate the nurses for the hard work, for the love and for the continuous care to the patients to serve and love,” she notes.
She added: “On this international day for nurses, we have recognised outstanding nurses in the various departments who have exhibited excellent services and have been there even during the pandemic to take care of patients. These are our heroes and deserve all the best.  They showed resilience and professionalism at a time when family members were scared and didn’t know what to do. 

The nurses, some died in the line of duty and we would like to recognise their service to humanity.  The first wave of the pandemic was challenging and people didn’t know what to do… the nurses didn’t run away, they stayed and did all their best amid challenges.”
Mr Cherop said the government should also address the salary disparity among health workers and give nurses the salary they deserve.
She said a nurse with a degree gets Shs2m and a medical doctor with a degree gets around Shs4m, which she says signals that nurses are undervalued yet they spend around the same time in school to obtain a degree.
She added that nurses’ salaries should be increased to Shs4.8m as doctors get Shs5m in the next financial year.

Govt reacts
While responding to Ms Amanya’s claims yesterday, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, said they have paid all the salaries and that what the health workers are demanding is the allowances which the government is getting resources to clear.
In March, Ms Anifa Kawooya, the State minister of Health in-charge of General Duties, while responding to the issue of recruiting more health workers, said they first want to deal with urgent issues at hand.
READ: Teachers, govt clash over salary increment promises

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