'Bracing for the Worst' Amid Uganda's Massive COVID-19 Surge

18 June 2021

In Uganda, Covid-19 infections blamed on numerous variants—including the Delta variant, considered the worst version of the virus and undoubtedly poses the biggest threat to unvaccinated people—have been exponentially increasing. The number of new infections is at its peak: the highest daily average reported now at over 1400 per day and a single-day peak reported on June 13, 2021, at 1735 cases - the highest since the pandemic began.

Like many African countries, Uganda's actual numbers may not be recorded in the country statistics due to the challenges of the system. But, we know that Uganda will require a unique and large-scale approach to overcome the pandemic as it's still grappling with other challenges such as weak health infrastructure, high poverty levels, conflict, and climate crisis. 

Mercy Corps' Country Director for Uganda, Edward Simiyu, says:

With barely 2% of the total population vaccinated so far, vaccine supplies have run out and severe oxygen shortages. We must brace ourselves for the worst as rising cases of infection are compounded by laxity in COVID-19 preventive measures. We have no way to know how far the virus has spread in Uganda because of the low testing capacity in the country. The health systems are overwhelmed, and sooner or later, there will be no space or adequate healthcare staff to admit severely ill patients who need emergency and critical care services. It's a ticking time bomb. 

Whilst the focus is mainly in the city centres, we are also starting to see an upward trend in the rural and marginalised areas. For example, in Moroto District in the Karamoja region, a rapid test carried out on 49 people returned 18 positive cases, a 36.7% positivity rate. This is a worrying scenario and shows that the numbers reported are superficially far-fetched from reality on the ground. 

A penetration of COVID-19 infections in these rural and vulnerable regions is likely to be devastating and threatens to reverse hard-won progress while risking more people slipping deeper into poverty, further worsening social inequities, divisions, and conflict. It's a race against highly worrying and unpredictable times, and urgent international support is needed as quickly as possible.  

What we see in Uganda now is evidence of why vaccine equity is urgent. We are at a crossroads in the history of global public health, and it has never been more critical to deliver a vaccine that can protect everyone, everywhere, than now.