My name is Robert Mukholi and I am a programme officer at the Uganda Reach the Aged Association (URAA), a national non-governmental organisation which brings together more than 100 older persons’ organisations and individuals.
URAA has been working with HelpAge International to promote economic and social security, and to protect older persons' human rights in Uganda.
To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the government has issued restrictions which include closing learning facilities, closing borders, and banning international flights and public transport. Only essential services such as food markets, supermarkets etc are in operation.
The ban on public transport has had the most impact on the lives of older people. As public transport is affordable, including the use of hired motorcycles, older people prefer this mode of transport to access markets, healthcare facilities, social-care services and other support.
A week after the lockdown, older persons and persons with disabilities have reported difficulties in accessing healthcare services and basic needs such as food. The lack of transport has also substantially reduced the support older persons and persons with disabilities were receiving from their children from major towns. This coupled with social distancing restrictions has left the majority of these groups more at risk of increased health complications, isolation and lack of social support.
Further, without affordable, safe transport available, older people living in rural areas can't access the COVID-19 testing centres established by the government in Entebbe and Mulago National Hospitals. Most older persons are poor and cannot afford private taxis or other private transport.
In Uganda, older people look after 60 per cent of orphan children. This means with the closure of schools, the burden on older people has now heightened given that they have to look after their grandchildren. Older persons are now challenged with having enough food for their grandchildren as well as accessing learning materials and supervising their learning. This can be even more challenging for older people who have low literacy levels.
Due to the COVID-19 prevention restrictions, the majority of stakeholders and organisations who work for older people have limited approaches to engage with the government and deliver services to older persons and those under their care.
URAA is engaging with the government to come up with modalities of how older people can continue to benefit from the Senior Citizens Grant (SCG) and the Expanding Social Protection Programme (ESPP), which provide cash payments to older people. Currently, older people cannot access these funds due to the social distancing restrictions. This leaves older persons with no alternative source of income for their livelihoods.
As URAA, we have invested efforts in raising awareness of COVID-19, what it is, how it is spread and ways of mitigating its spread through media and posters distributed by older volunteers. We disseminate the information used by the ministry of health and the presidency as these are the two agencies allowed to communicate all matters on COVID-19.
With limited resources, we cannot afford to provide urgently needed prevention and protective kits like face masks, sanitisers and gloves, among others. Due to increased demand, the materials are expensive, and some are out of stock.
If funding becomes available, URAA will utilise a community-based model to support older people through door-to-door provision of information.