Uganda is fighting the coronavirus that the World Health Organization (WHO) declined as a pandemic and has claimed “hundred of thousands” of lives. In the fight to combat the virus, the government set up SOPs directives such as wearing masks, social distancing, sanitizing, regular washing of hands as well as gone the extra mile of suspending public & private transportation, closing down businesses, limiting the number of people in offices.
As the fight continues, the government began administering a mass vaccination exercise of Covid-19 country-wide that will ultimately have the critical percentage of all citizens, residents, and refugees get the jab —while still following SOPs. According to online sources, over 800,000+ citizens have been vaccinated and these are mostly people from Urban areas.
With the country receiving more Covid-19 vaccine doses, the rural people and refugees are among the people that are to get vaccinated. However, most health centers in rural areas and refugee camps are having the problem of the vaccines getting destroyed due to a lack of refrigeration.
“Within an average of four hours, a non-refrigerated vaccine becomes ineffective,” said Amos Asiku, the facility in charge at Bidibidi Health Centre III in Northern Uganda. Who adds that the vaccines getting destroyed due to lack of refrigeration at the health center which has been operational since 2016.
The Bidibidi Health Centre III has been using gas-powered fridges which get multiple mechanical faults causing breakdowns every so often, putting the vaccines at risk of getting destroyed. In addition, refilling of the gas in the fridge was strenuous since it was done from a distant area lasting multiple days.
“It had frequent breakdowns and when it went off, the faster you acted, the better, because the fridge would no longer be regulated, the vaccines would go bad which I termed as wasted because it can no longer be used,” explained Asiku.
In the event of a breakdown, Bidibidi Health Centre III would move all the vaccines to a nearby government hospital for refrigeration which affected operation at the health center in addition to time wastage.
In a twist of events, MTN through its foundation arm, MTN Foundation partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and donated solar-powered fridges to 10 health centers that would become the salvation to a pandemic in the refugee settlement.
“MTN gave us a solar-powered fridge that is able to run for 24 hours. It makes the antigens available for patients meaning they are able to access them at any time. Some of the vaccines housed at the health center include polio, HPV, and Covid-19,” Asiku said.
According to Asiku, the fridge has been very critical in the safekeeping of the Covid-19 vaccines which were received in May and have been administered in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines. “Covid-19 vaccines are maintained on the cold chain so we are able to maintain them under cold conditions to keep them safe until such a time when people wanted to take the vaccine,” he said.
The health center is a medical relief to South Sudanese refugees and most recently Congolese refugees along with the area host community.
Other than Bidibidi Health Centre III, MTN Foundation also donated solar-powered fridges to health centers including; Odupi Health Centre III, Imvepi Refugee Settlement, Swinga Health Centre II, Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Bangatuti Health Centre III, Idiwa Health Centre III, Palorinya Refugee Settlement, PaludaHealth Centre II, Nakivale Refugee Settlement and Rulongo Health Centre II. The solar-powered fridges are worth UGX600 million and a large enough to accommodate more doses of vaccines.
Speaking days after the commemoration of the world refugee day, Conrad Olowo, Project Manager, MTN Foundation says MTN has over the years dedicated a lot of support to all communities including refugees in Uganda.
“We are glad to have played a critical role in strengthening the fight against Covid-19. MTN through its operations also ensures to contribute to the fight against the virus through streamlining communication and financial services through mobile money,” said Olowo.
This was reiterated by Wendy Daphne Kasujja the assistant Reporting Officer, External Engagement, UNHCR who affirmed that MTN has supported the refugees in Uganda and host communities with a focus on the health sector.
“Through their donation of medical fridges and construction of a full maternity ward in Palorinya refugee settlement, MTN has helped in ensuring that children get immunized, and contributed to the improvement of maternal and child health. The support received is not limited to refugees alone but includes the host communities in which they live, since refugees access the same government health facilities as the nationals,” she said.
UNHCR urged the private sector to support the refugee response in Uganda; home to 1.5 million refugees and asylum-seekers.