Uganda Martyrs Hospital Lubaga is not yet approved to handle coronavirus (COVID-19) related care, the minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng has said.
Lubaga hospital earlier issued a press release signed by Dr Andrew Ssekitooleko, the executive director on July 29 saying; ”In conjunction with the KCCA department of health, we have set up a community surveillance program at the hospital to screen for any community spread. We encourage the community of Lubaga South to approach the hospital for testing in case they have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 and to be vigilant in observing the standard operating procedures for its prevention.”
Ssekitooleko further said that in partnership with Malteser International, and with support from the German government, the hospital had set up an isolation unit to offer free treatment to COVID-19 patients from the local community of Lubaga South.
However, Aceng said Thursday that Lubaga hospital is not among the accredited facilities allowed to provide coronavirus health care and advised the hospital to instead refer to accredited facilities any patients that present with signs of coronavirus.
"If we start creating isolation facilities and testing labs all over the country without control, we run a very big risk of not controlling our activities, the cases will blow out of proportion, we’ll not have control over them. It is important that we know every happening everywhere and we have control over. So, I welcome Lubaga hospital to write formally to the ministry of Health and we shall send an assessment teams there to help them. As is now they need to follow the procedure and refer the patient to the rightful place." minister Aceng said.
This week, Lubaga hospital registered a positive coronavirus patient who was later referred to Mulago national referral hospital's intensive care unit, the first of all Uganda's 1,147 confirmed coronavirus cases from 269,576 tested samples as of July 29, 2020. Uganda had up to this point not yet had any coronavirus patient requiring ICU care - with all the patients said to have the mild coronavirus strain.
Some 1,028 coronavirus patients have been effectively treated and discharged from various hospitals. Uganda has one the highest recovery coronavirus rates in the country with officials putting it down to the mild COVID-19 strain and peoples’ immunity bolstered by their exposure to malaria and other tropical parasites.
Last week, another private facility, Mengo hospital lost an 80-year-old woman whose postmortem results later turned out positive for coronavirus. She was Uganda's second coronavirus victim after another woman, a 34-year-old Eunice Chimatala in the same week succumbed to the disease after 5 days in two private clinics.
Her coronavirus infection was only confirmed after her death. President Yoweri Museveni later said the two cases had been mismanaged by the health facilities, and that the victims wouldn't have probably died if they had sought for treatment or been referred to the approved coronavirus managing facilities after presenting with COVID-19.
Aceng said it is important that the ministry stays in control of the coronavirus testing, treatment to contact tracing and management if the pandemic is to be managed effectively. She said to date, only three private facilities have been approved to manage the pandemic and Lubaga hospital is not among them.
"The accredited laboratories include the following MBN on Plot 28 Nakasero road, Lancent Laboratories on Plot 99/10 Madhivani building on Buganda Road and Medipal International hospital on Plot 1-a Lower Kololo Terrace. The laboratories will charge a fee for services. However, the public is informed that access to testing is still a challenge globally and therefore the capacities of the private laboratories may be limited in terms of the numbers of tests," Aceng said.
The minister said the three approved private testing laboratories had struggled to acquire the testing kits given the global shortage and they will have to meet their overhead costs. She so far 12 facilities have been accredited to carry out coronavirus testing - 3 private, 3 public and 6 research laboratories.
While private healthcare providers under their umbrella Uganda Healthcare Federation (UHF) had earlier been lobbying to be involved in the pandemic handling and management, executive director Grace Kiwanuka said Thursday that it’s highly unlikely that they will take part.
She said they had earlier started with the training of health workers in private facilities via zoom on how to handle cases in case they arise but only 600 health workers got the opportunity of the 3,300 facilities around the country.
“In Kampala, we have 1600 facilities and 98 per cent are privately owned. KCCA has been trying to train private facilities but the resources available were limited,” she said handling COVID-19 would be very challenging for them.
“The nature of this condition being highly infectious makes it difficult to contain if they have many mixed care centres. People in ICU for a cardiovascular condition in a ward with COVID-19 people to give a crude example. So would that facility only handle COVID going forward? Having centres that solely focus on COVID also allows for efficient usage of the PPE that's proving hard to get." Kiwanuka said.
Kiwanuka asked government to come up with training programmes that can benefit private providers since with the rise in community cases of COVID-19, a lot more people will be picked from private facilities since other respiratory infections that can present the same symptoms are high.
On his part, Dr Stephen Ayella Ataro, the vice president of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) recommends that private healthcare facilities that have the capacity to handle COVID-19 be assessed and allowed to since Uganda’s healthcare system is designed in a way that one can seek health services from anywhere from the government to private facilities.
To him, whether private facilities offer COVID-19 treatment or not, with the rise in cases picked from different parts of the country, all facilities should be guarded with the right personal protective equipment if further infections are to be minimized.
Aceng said Uganda has now entered stage 3 of the coronavirus pandemic where there is an increase in community transmission. She said that the ministry had noted the even more increasing complacency among the population disregarding preventive measures of handwashing, sanitising, wearing of face masks, social distancing among others yet the country is now at the most critical stage of the pandemic. She added that the ministry had learnt of people buying negative coronavirus results.