Epidemics in Uganda managed by unqualified people – Study

Prof Freddie Ssengooba
Prof Freddie Ssengooba

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Uganda’s response to disease outbreaks is managed by untrained people, according to findings from a study carried out by the Makerere University School of Public Health.  

The study established that often, disease outbreak responses at the district level are led by politicians instead of trained health workers. The study was carried out by looking at past disease outbreaks, and who the key responders were at different levels of society.  

In the last five years, Uganda has had a number of disease outbreaks including Crimean Congo Fever, Marburg, Ebola, Cholera, and more recently COVID-19.

But during the response to each of the outbreaks, competent and trained doctors at district levels were rather pushed aside, and their duties were taken over by Resident District Commissioners or technocrats from the Ministry of Health headquarters.  

Prof Freddie Ssengooba, a Public Health Specialist says that while Uganda is hailed for its ability to handle disease outbreaks, often, the country’s response to epidemics is handled by unqualified people. He adds that often the people chosen to lead do not even know how the disease might look like.

According to Prof Freddie Ssengooba, during a disease outbreak, the Minister of Health needs to be in charge of what is happening. At the ministry level, the department of disease outbreaks or health emergencies should be highly involved and district health officers at district level.  

At the moment, the country’s COVID-19 response is headed by the minister who is assisted by incident managers with back up from the Scientific committee which consists of epidemiologists, virologists, researchers, disease infection experts and public health experts.  

Dr Nathan Onyachi, the Director of Masaka Regional Referral Hospital says there have been situations where teams are sent from Kampala to respond to disease outbreak when district officials or even the main treatment centre in the area is not aware.  

However, he quickly adds that the health ministry has changed its management of disease outbreaks in the current global COVID-19 epidemic. Under the new system, officers at regional hospitals will head disease response plans.

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Dr Monica Musenero, an epidemiologist and also, a senior presidential advisor disagrees with the findings of the report saying the health ministry has a clear set-out routine on how to handle epidemics. She says that often the district health officials are more of managers and not trained epidemiologists who might know how to handle a big disease outbreak like Ebola.   

Dr Musenero says that with the success that the country has achieved with handling various epidemics, the current disease response algorithm that the country uses works fine.