Nebbi man digs grave over fears of contracting COVID-19

todayAugust 3, 2021

By Ronald Orachwun

A story is told of a 67 year old man (William) not real names who dug his own grave for fear of contracting the infectious COVID-19. I caught up with him and his experience is not a happy one.
“I have had to do preparations for my funerals. I bought three goats last year in December, though they have multiplied to around eight. Almost everything about corona virus gives me headache. I got so scared months back and ordered some boys here to dig a small 3 feet grave just in case anything happens to me”, he said.
But more traumatizing to him is the testing costs and the infectious nature of the disease.
“I’m a peasant farmer. I don’t have money to barely feed in a day and then how can I go for the corona virus test when the people conducting the tests are asking so much that I can’t even afford in ten years? I stay in this small grass thatched house alone almost all the time because my wife and three children left me two years back. I stay here alone because I don’t want to mingle with other people. But what made me to dig this hole is when I developed flue, cough and fever at the beginning of the year. I have never tested but the constant fear and stress for COVID-19 actually worsened my conditions because I have been living with hypertension for long now”, he says.
William is not alone.
Another 58 year old Rose Unyai, a mother of ten and a resident in Pawong parish in Jupangira Sub County Nebbi district is struggling for means of livelihood after she in February this year ordered her children to sell everything they harvested from their rented 2 acre piece of garden for fear that COVID-19 has come to wipe humanity from the face of the earth.
“We are currently living on handouts from well-wishers. We planted cassava, beans and maize but everything was sold while part of it was consumed at home because from the onset of corona, the fear of dying of the disease clouded me. So here we are, helpless. I didn’t know I would be alive up to now. And by the way this apart from my 20 year old son who also started smoking on top of his excessive drinking habits because he had nothing to do”, she said.

What experts say
Behavioral change and health experts have called for positive thinking among members of the wider community to deal with adverse effects of COVID-19.
“Cultivating a positive mind-set is a powerful coping mechanism. Positivity stems from the idea that the best or only way to cope with a bad situation is to put a positive spin on it and not dwell on the negative,” said Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It results from our tendency to undervalue negative emotional experiences and overvalue positive ones.”
A number of health experts in Nebbi say people are exposed to negative mindset are susceptible to mood disorders involving depression, general anxiety disorders marked with fear for disasters and constant worries about life events like; money, death, work, family etc. Also people are exposed to chronic psychosis which can manifest through mania, hallucinations and thought disorders.

The figures
In Uganda mental disorders have become a major public health concern as the country battles COVID-19, with experts saying more cases of depression and insomnia to increase if left unattended to.
According to a report released by Twaweza, a bigger number of citizens have expressed worry about the continued spread of COVID-19 in the country.
The Twaweza’s Sauti Za Wanainchi Survey conducted in Kampala found that 95 percent of citizens are worried about the spread of Covid-19 in Uganda, despite only half of them (42%) who feel personally at risk of contracting the virus.
Beyond the clear health implications and concerns, Covid-19 has brought a number of especially social and economic issues to the fore.
Evidence from around the world has shown that women are disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and by measures taken to prevent its spread. Across Uganda, eight out of ten citizens (79%) say teen pregnancy has become a bigger problem during the Coronavirus pandemic.
A significant 49 percent of men and 53 percent women, while another 43 percent of men and 49 percent women said emotional violence and sexual violence were major problems during the corona virus pandemic, with the men urged to observe these increases, given that these are largely acts that are perpetuated by men on women.
But the senior Public Relations Officer Ministry of Health says, “We need Ugandans from all walks of life to support each other through this crisis. And we need to make sure we are aware of the effects of COVID-19 on our mental as well as our physical health and well-being.”

What is the grim reality?
The World Health Organization WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic in the early months of 2020 and classed it a major disaster.
But given the social-economic impact of the coronavirus, the mental health of all individuals, families, and society has been affected by the Uganda is ranked among the top six countries in Africa in rates of depressive disorders (4.6%; Miller et al., 2020), while 2.9% live with anxiety disorders (WHO, 2017). About 5.1 percent of females and 3.6 percent of males are affected.
Sustained stress exposure causes people to turn to damaging behavior like crime, reckless sexual acts, violence, domestic abuse, and substance abuse. Reports indicate that 80% of Ugandan youths are using alcohol (Ayebare et al., 2019). Without doubt, COVID-19 has imposed a significant mental health burden upon the people of Uganda.

The solution
Even before the corona virus lockdowns were imposed, mental health related cases were gradually increasing at health facilities. Much as some of the cases demand material support, some social workers suggest other ways.
“It’s true people have been greatly affected by the corona virus and mental health issues arose especially during the lockdowns. Let us all forget about the negativities and develop positive thinking about life. I think it’s also important to get the right knowledge. I see some people have been clouded with myths and misconceptions about COVID-19 which do not add up to anything. And by the way counseling is a two way traffic. You need to open up and speak so that you are helped. Above all you need to associate with people who can lend you a listening ear to you. Its very bad to stay isolated because it will compel you to do things which you never thought of. Maybe lastly people should do regular exercises to make you busy”, advices Openjmungu Ivan a social worker in Nebbi.

COVER PHOTO: Behavioral change and health experts are worried of figures showing trends of mental health illnesses as COVID-19 sweeps across Uganda. Courtesy photo.

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