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Epidemic preparedness and response in Uganda, Sep 2021

Highlights of a technical brief from the Institute of Development Studies

Uganda faces a high burden of communicable disease alongside a growing burden of non-communicable diseases. While its surveillance and response systems are strong, there are key gaps, particularly in implementation and in rural parts of the country.

Tackling deadly diseases in Africa (TDDA) works with Uganda to improve health security and save lives. Integrating social science perspectives into TDDA’s technical assistance work provides important benefits. It strengthens our understanding of the contexts in which we operate and informs the support we give. It can also help to shape emergency response systems so that they are more effective, adaptive, evidence-based, and planned in consultation with affected and at-risk communities.

The Institute of Development Studies is a valued resource partner to TDDA. With our support, they have recently produced a series of technical briefs, detailing the key political, economic, cultural and social issues facing each of the countries we work with. Here is a

snapshot of their findings for Uganda.

Key considerations and recommendations in Uganda – summary

Building the role of the private health sector in outbreak response: The private health sector is largely unregulated and uncoordinated, yet it represents roughly half of all health services in Uganda. There is potential to improve outbreak response in the short term by engage the wide array of private health sector actors: ‘drug shop’ owners and staff, private health facility doctors and nurses, and traditional healers. They can be provided with training and mechanisms to link into a national outbreak response system.

Collaboration with traditional healers: Traditional and spiritual healers and herbalists provide complementary and alternative medicine services in Uganda, which vary according to cultural group. A systematic assessment of each culture’s health beliefs, local etymologies, and understandings of disease can be useful. Respecting differences in belief and medical practice can help establish collaborative relationships for better epidemic control.

Liaison with social scientists: Academic institutions play a key role in providing technical expertise to Uganda’s Ministry of Health, District Health Offices, and other non-governmental actors. By liaising with local social scientists, the country can leverage existing research and in-country experience to provide rapid insights, enabling more effective outbreak response, tailored to specific areas.

Community trust and engagement in epidemic response: This is a vital factor in how and when communities take up public health advice. Public health guidance and health services should be adapted to different populations, their cultural preferences and livelihood constraints. Meaningful community engagement is also key. Engaging with trusted interlocutors is a way to improve community buy-in to epidemic response activities. This may include working with non-governmental organizations, other community-based organizations, religious leaders, or local leaders.

Tailoring systems and responses to the needs of the vulnerable: Identification of the vulnerable needs to be done at the local level. For example, the vulnerabilities of Uganda’s urban poor, border populations, refugees and displaced people, the Karamojong, youth, and women and girls, should all be considered. Epidemic responses need to include specific approaches to reduce these vulnerabilities during an outbreak, such as considering the ways that care-giving can put women at heightened risk of disease.

The IDS technical brief for Uganda was prepared by David Kaawa-Mafigiri, Francis Kato, and Megan Schmidt-Sane.

Read the full document:

Sep 2021


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