Young people can be instrumental to assure health care is accessible to all and fighting stigma and discrimination faced by those infected by COVID-19 says Sekatuka Abubaker
As we welcomed 2022 on New Year’s day, many people were amid celebrations, especially after hearing about the President’s announcements of bars opening and lockdown easing in Uganda.
To some people like me, the moments were filled with agony. A few hours into the New Year, I suddenly felt a severe headache coupled with lightheadedness, muscle pain and loss of balance. There was cramping in my tummy accompanied by nausea. I tried to relax and let nature take its course. Eventually, severe diarrhoea followed which left me relieved but weak.
I was rushed to the hospital where I was examined, did the necessary tests and found out I had the CoronaVirus, the virus that causes COVID19.
Covid-19 and the medical costs.
At the hospital, the doctor and nurses leading the treatment made it look like a simple disease. Only a few people were wearing masks and those who had one on were not wearing them properly. After getting an infusion of normal saline and an antibiotic, I was handed my lab results and treatment form. I checked the total bill, which amounted to a million.
I stood still as if I was in a stupor for a moment. I remembered my brother whom I heard was battling the same condition. He was not financially stable. I knew that I could afford to pay my bills at the private hospital. Moreover, I had a health insurance card and did not have to worry about exorbitant expenses.
The plight of the have-nots.
As I got ready to leave, the doctor looked me in the eyes and said, “Do not worry, this disease is treatable.” I smiled and replied, “I am not afraid but am glad that I am alive”. Little did he know that I was struck with anger and pain thinking about those who could not afford to pay for treatment.
While at home, I was visited by a friend next door who informed me that he and his pregnant wife had just recovered from COVID-19. As I processed the information, I recalled seeing one of my neighbours boiling herbs just at the corner of his compound.
My neighbour later told me though he was infected with COVID-19, he could not afford the exorbitant costs associated with the treatment. Instead of going to the hospital to get treated, he was using accessible and cheap herbs as medicine to ease his symptoms.
My neighbour also kept being infected a secret. He did not want to raise an alarm to the members of the community. Being infected with Coronavirus is highly stigmatised in my community and those that contract the virus are discriminated against.
My question still stands. How many people are there in our communities who are showing the symptoms of COVID19 but are afraid to seek treatment due to the expensive medical costs?
The need of the hour.
With the emergence of new and emerging variants of concern and interest, we need each and everybody’s vigilance, commitment and participation in taking responsibility to call on governments and hold stakeholders accountable to address access to health services as a human right. It is the responsibility and need of the hour for the policy-makers and those in power to create a health care system that is publicly just and good.
The state of healthcare in Uganda is still struggling due to a disgruntled health system. Even though the policies are drafted well, it is poorly implemented coupled with rising levels of corruption cases. Capitalism has favoured private for-profit health service providers.
At present, there is an urgent need to support young people. They need to be in the leadership, policy development and implementation process to ensure that the well-being of people including themselves are taken care of. Apart from that, instilling a spirit of volunteering to ensure that future leaders are capable of contributing to human rights and sustainable development as a whole is necessary.
Young people can be instrumental to assure health care is accessible to all and fighting the stigma and discrimination faced by those infected by COVID-19.
Sekatuka Abubaker is a Human rights activist, social and environmental activist, Public health professional, youth leader, trainer and advocate for Community volunteers. He is currently a Global coaching fellowship mentor with Rhize a US-based organisation. He trains and supports grass-root movement leaders with skills and opportunities to advance social justice. He has worked with various Non-profit organizations including Youth for Nature as a global ambassador, Love To Love Uganda and Impact Toolbox as a community ambassador.