Uganda’s refugee population has so far reported eight cases of COVID-19. In Bidibidi settlement, Yumbe district, the refugee leaders are working tirelessly to keep the numbers down.
In Bangatuti village, Bidibidi settlement, four refugee welfare council members meet to discuss their awareness message to the community.
When COVID-19 broke out in Uganda in March 2020, the Ugandan government quickly shut its door to new refugees, including those from South Sudan, to curb the spread of the disease caused by the coronavirus. According to the Johns Hopkins University, Uganda currently has more than 42,600 confirmed infections and 347 deaths.
Data Kenyi, a refugee welfare council member, says since then, the refugees have been closely monitored.
“We tell them, to observe the social distancing, hand washing. Let me say, just the SOPs [Standard operating procedures] put in place. There is no high rate infection in the settlement. Whoever came new, has to go for 14 days quarantine. From there, then they will join the community and be safe,” said Kenyi.
In the Ugandan refugee settlements, the markets, schools and health centers that are in zones closer to the local community are open to both refugees and locals. This can be a catalyst for the spread of COVID-19 if the refugees are not checked.
Uganda has prioritized front-line health workers for the vaccine that is being administered around the country. At Abirimajio market, which is open to refugees, Neva Rukia says she has heard on radio about people getting vaccinated and is wondering when they will be considered.
She says, "They say that if you have not attained the age of 50, you won’t get vaccinated.” She also says, “I’m 32 years and they say I don’t qualify for the vaccination. Am I not at risk of being infected?”
On Sunday, under a grass thatched mud and wattle church, more than 100 members of a Protestant church congregation sat attentively, listening to the priest. Many of them were women and children, some with masks and others without.
Esther Luma, the church lay reader, explains the challenges facing the community. The church leader is a refugee, and the congregation consists of all refugees.
“We don’t have money for buying sanitizer and masks. Of course, the church has no budget. Even the facility for washing hands is also difficult for us to get,” she said.
Uganda is home to 1.4 million refugees. U.N. partners such as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say they will continue to urge to Uganda to reopen its borders, but this may not happen until the east African country builds adequate capacity to test and quarantine new variants of the coronavirus.