The recent explosion of violence in eastern DRC has sparked a new wave of refugees entering Uganda, posing a potential health crisis as the region grapples with a fresh wave of Covid-19.
More than 62,000 Congolese refugees have entered Uganda since January, and numbers have risen in recent weeks after renewed fighting between government forces and M23 rebels.
According to the Uganda Red Cross the majority of refugees are not vaccinated against Covid-19.
The UN refugee agency’s protocol requires refugees in reception centers near the border to be scanned for various diseases, including Covid-19. But it was not easy to control the movements of those arriving from the DRC, as many of them refused to go to the reception centers for screening, choosing to stay along the border while they waited that fighting will subside.
“Fearing being treated as refugees, many are setting up temporary shelters at the border where they will mingle with local communities,” said the Ugandan Red Cross spokeswoman. Irene Nakasiita, to The EastAfrican on Thursday.
< p>On Thursday, official data showed that Uganda had administered 21.7 million vaccine doses, 16 million of which were single doses and 10 million were double doses.
The country has set a target of vaccinating about 21.9 million people, 49 percent of the population.
And although there is no official data on how many Covid-19 cases among identified to the refugees t, Uganda’s health authorities are still concerned they pose a health risk.
As of Wednesday, there were a daily average of 98 newly detected cases, and the country planning authority says there will be more than 1,000 by the end of this week new infections.
Covid-19 cases have increased in East Africa and government vaccination campaigns have slowed.
< p>Read:Covid-19 : Alert as infections rise in East Africa
Kenya’s positivity rate was 12 percent on Thursday, a level the World Health Organization deems threatening enough to call for a lockdown. The government has now mandated the wearing of masks in crowded spaces and on all public transport.
Tanzania’s Health Ministry said it had recorded 68 Covid-19 cases between April and May, and that number has been rising since May to 161 new cases June 5-4, up 100 percent.
Uganda’s health officials attribute low vaccine uptake to a shortage of medical staff, logistical challenges and a lack of information , particularly in rural areas where people are still avoiding the vaccine.
The country is facing the expiration of over six million doses of the vaccine, worth over $333 billion, according to Health Secretary Jane Ruth Aceng (88, 65 million US dollars) over the next three months.
In a cabinet report last Monday, Dr. Aceng: “The low utilization of vaccines began when the third wave was controlled and the economy reopened in January 2022, affecting the severity of vaccination risk perceptions. This has been compounded by myths and misconceptions on social media and made worse by negative activists rolling back vaccination campaigns.”
However, the governments of Kenya and Uganda have no plans to introduce lockdowns to curb infections, but are urging vaccination.
Read:Kenya reinstates mask requirement
In Uganda, plans to vaccinate school children have been halted after officials at the Ministry of Education denied the had rejected the proposal arguing that schools are not official health institutions.
Many parents are also opposed to the idea of vaccinating their children, fearing that they could be violently bitten at school, although the Ministry of Health has assured that no child will be vaccinated without parental consent.
“We will certainly vaccinate children, but between the ages of 12 and 17 only during the holidays and their parents have given their consent. We will give them the Pfizer vaccine,” said Health Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyona.
Also read:Africa sees an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases