Parents in Uganda storm COVID-19 testing centres with ill children

Parents in Uganda storm COVID-19 testing centres with ill children
Doctors taking coronavirus samples from some of the students who returned from school with cough and flu symptoms. COURTESY PHOTO

Kampala, Uganda | URN | The situation at Makerere Hospital is being played out across Uganda after students returned abruptly for holidays when the second wave of COVID-19 hit the country.

Dr Josephat Byamugisha, Executive Director Makerere hospital -one of the major testing centres, says that previously Makerere has been mainly testing people who were preparing to travel abroad.

However, since last weekend they have received an abrupt increase in the number of students visiting the centre.

“We have been carrying out testing for people travelling mainly. But in the past two days, we have seen more learners from school coming to the test. They are being brought by their parents,” he said.

Although he didn’t give out specific numbers, Dr Byamugisha says many of these students are testing positive.

Similar trends are observed in Wakiso district which is one of the areas with the highest concentration of schools in the country. The Wakiso district COVID-19 incident report indicates that the number of cases among people of age Zero to 19 currently stands at 740 children.

Betty Nabuganda, the Wakiso Deputy District Health Officer, says the majority of the positive cases were registered last week.

“Since last week we have seen the number of children testing positive soar. The number registered has been steadily increasing with almost a third of the total numbers in this category registered in the said period,” says Nabuganda.

In Gulu, 17% of student from Kampala found infected with COVID-19

On Tuesday 8, June 2021, Gulu University Laboratory conducted rapid COVID-19 tests on 280 students evacuated from Kampala to Gulu City. 47 students (17 per cent) were found infected.

Stephen Odong Latek was on Thursday 10th quoted by this publication saying that they wanted to conduct more tests but they were limited by the lack of test kits.

Overall, COVID-19 testing centres around the country are registering an increase in the number of children testing for COVID-19, days after schools were closed for 42 days.

The schools were closed early this week by President Museveni to stop the spread of COVID-19 infections in schools. According to health officials, schools had turned into infection clusters with over 1,000 cases of the disease traced.

Following the closure, several parents are taking their children to be tested before taking them home. Our reporters visited several testing centres which revealed that the number of learners testing for COVID-19 has increased since Monday 7th, June 2021.

Staff at the testing labs intimated that many parents were taking their children for voluntary tests following reports that some schools had positive cases. Other learners were tested at health facilities after they presented with COVID-19 symptoms.

At the time schools closed, there were 948 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 43 schools and institutions of higher learning in 22 districts across the country. Kampala, Oyam, Wakiso, and Masaka districts had the highest number of reported cases.

Lt. Col Dr Henry Kyobe the national COVID-19 incident commander also asserts that although they cannot directly link the several children testing positives to schools, they have already seen an increase in the positive results among children of school-going age.

But, Kyobe says currently they cannot provide quantified data as they are still analyzing the tests done in the previous days at different COVID-19 testing centres across the country.

“By next week, we will have an analysed data and be able to quantify the total number of school-going children that have been infected. This will help us tell how big the problem of covid19 in school could have been,” he adds.

He further raises fears that many cases from schools, more so those who are asymptomatic, might go unnoticed due to limited testing in communities. Kyobe also adds that some parents are using Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDT) which might not be reliable due to possibilities of giving false negatives.

Dr Elizabeth Ekirapa-Kiracho, a public health expert, says despite the identified increase in children testing positive, the problem is way bigger than seen as many children whose parents cannot afford to carry out the test are unreported.

Dr Ekirapa-Kiracho notes that although the ideal practice before sending the children whose status is unknown was to test them, the government or maybe the school couldn’t have afforded it.

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She advises parents to either test their children or isolate them and rush them to a nearby health centre if they present COVID-19 symptoms.

At the moment, the cheapest COVID-19 Rapid Testing Kit costs 60,000 Shillings. However, due to low levels of accuracy, parents who want accurate results are advised to carry out a PCR test which costs 200,000 Shillings on average.

Dr Monica Musenero, the senior presidential advisor on epidemics says parents who cannot afford to test all their children need to isolate them instead to be on the safe side.

“When we closed schools we did not know the extent of infections in schools but we knew it was high and it is one of the reasons that we decided to close. But since testing is expensive, we advise parents to isolate children from schools for 14 days within the home as they monitor the situation,” she said.