Scientists puzzled over low COVID-19 cases in Uganda

Uganda has so far recorded 81 COVID-19 cases with over 52 recoveries

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Ugandan scientists are still puzzled about the few COVID-19 cases reported in the country. Uganda has the lowest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the East African block. Rwanda and Kenya have 255 and 396 confirmed cases respectively. Tanzania has 480 cases while Uganda stands at 81.

Ugandan Scientists are now calling for studies to find out why there are few COVID-19 cases in the country compared to its neighbors. Prof Rhoda Wanyenze, an epidemiologist who is in charge of COVID-19 case modeling on the national COVID-19 task force says it is still unknown why Uganda and Africa as a whole have registered lower COVID-19 cases compared to the rest of the world.

“We have begun studies to determine why this is so but we suspect that it might have more to do with demographics of the country where in the case of Uganda, majority are young people less susceptible to the disease,” Prof Wanyenze said. Data from the Health Ministry indicates that majority of COVID-19 cases in Uganda originated from neighboring countries.

So far, only seven community transmissions have been reported from over 25,000 tests conducted. Dr. Misaki Wayengera, the Head of the Scientific Committee on the COVID-19 Task Force attributes the low cases in the country to the quick decision taken by President Yoweri Museveni.

Even before Uganda announced its fast COVID-19 case, President Yoweri Museveni closed all schools and banned public gatherings. When the first cases were announced on March 21, 2020, the number of directives issued by the President increased. Currently there are 35 directives including a five week lockdown of the country.

Dr. Wayengera says that one constant thing that the virus has shown is that it enters countries through border crossings. He says that in African countries like Uganda, the rate of cross border travel is not as wide spread as in developed countries where travel from one state to another might require air travel and not a taxi or bus.

At the moment, the number of confirmed cases in some countries is higher than that of the entire African continent. Africa has 35,094 confirmed cases. It’s numbers are closer to those reported in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and even India. The global epicenter of the disease is the US with over one million cases reported.

There are many theories to try and explain the low African numbers like high temperatures and genetic makeup of dark skinned people which make them immune to the disease. Dr. Wayengera says such theories are false and cannot be proved.

”When we look at the number of black people passing away in European countries, the numbers are high. While this might be due to poor access to health facilities, it shows black people can get the disease. They are as susceptible to it as people of any other race,” Dr. Wayengera explains.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) attributes the low numbers to under declaration of confirmed cases, which they suspect is a result of low capacity to test suspects. Prof Wanyenze says more testing is needed for Uganda to get a better picture of the COVID-19 situation in the country.

To try and ascertain the number of cases, the Health Ministry has embarked on a mass testing survey exercise that is treating health workers, market vendors, people who live along highways that lead to border crossings, fishing communities, LDUs and religious leaders.

During the survey, a blood and a nasopharyngeal swab will be collected to test for COVID-19. The survey is targeting 20,000 Ugandans.