HRDs stay mute during COVID19

Mawadri Douglas July 6, 2021

What stands in our way? Are we procrastinating? The civil society is in shock of the lockdown, the human rights situation and the practices. However, being in a precarious public health situation and overlooking the loss of lives, the human rights society is mute, as the reporting media indicates arrests of persons caught flouting the SOP’s.


Uganda entered a second lockdown effective 22:00 hours on the 18th June 2021 in an attempt to contain the second wave of COVID-19, the Delta variant strain from India and the Alpha Strain (UK and USA). These variants are said to have emerged alongside SARS-Cov-2, a rapid variant spreading across the African Continent, particularly reported in Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, DRC and Zambia.

The sudden decision to lockdown Uganda emanates from the public health situations where the Country’s health sector is strained due to the overwhelming number of patients at its hospitals, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), inadequate oxygen facilities that has seen many lives lost in the health facilities. These new variants have not spread to any age groups, with which many lives were lost. Many medical experts said that Uganda lost the fight to Covid-19 albeit its good performance in the first wave. This could happen because there was general reluctance in the observance of the standard operations procedures (SOPs), opening of international boundaries and general poor health sectors among others.

The second wave and lockdown certainly was not predicted and not prepared for by many who had downplayed the move and any thoughts of lockdown. Many recovering businesses, opportunities for human livelihoods were brought to total shutdown, with very strict observance of the SOP’s by the police. This certainly has not gone well with the majority of the population.

Comfort before actions?

The civil society is in shock of the lockdown, the human rights situation and the practices. However, being in a precarious public health situation and overlooking the loss of lives, the human rights society is mute, as the reporting media indicates arrests of persons caught flouting the SOP’s.

Meanwhile, the social media is awash with messages of hope and comfort, a Catholic Priest preaching on TV fondly quote Rober K, “buli omu agumye munne”, Literary meaning, “everyone comfort them”. The message of comfort has become so popular to the many lives lost, sick in the hospital and that battling covid-19 from their homes, the businesses closed, the violations on the streets and the uncertainty, anxieties of life has to offer. Comfort…, Comfort …, Comfort.

The media reports on covid-19 and mental health in Uganda is quite appalling that many are left to battle mental health challenges alone without any support systems created around them. There is certainly stigma and discrimination of persons who are suffering from covid-19 within their own communities, families. The lack of an integrated community based support system makes intervention to the persons who might need such services very difficult. Sadly, cases of suicides, and homicides are being reported, which persons cannot respond due the measures put in place, such as inter-district travel bans, among other restrictions.

During the lockdown, the human rights society is left with no options to physically respond to any interventions, due to the restrictions and fear of catching the virus. The available options are to move services online to check friends, colleagues and offer any support/interventions where any. While these options are available to many services provided by human rights to their counterparts and clients, the potential of mental health service provision within the human rights society has not been explored much. A recent study by Pollicy Organisation indicated only 1% of health expenditure in Uganda goes to Mental Health care and the ratio of mental health provision is 1.13 per 100,000 persons.

Community support on mental health

The current challenge therefore requires the use of digital inclusion towards addressing the challenges of mental health, and creating mechanisms to reach the most vulnerable persons in need of the services. In the Part, the Associates for Health Rights Uganda (AHAR), developed tools for human rights mental health intervention measures, to mitigate human rights violations. The Regeneration Facilitators Circle Tool, a tool on safety, worth, connections and imagination that offers a reign of support systems to the communities who are exposed to trauma, anxiety, and stressful moments using peer support systems. The tool addresses mental health challenges and offers a support system online to those who need instant support. in real time. While the tool offers support, communities, it's a requirement that the users of the tool must be guided by trained Regenerators, to achieve the desired results, the DHRLab shall take measures to offer support to the DHRLab community. We need to be kind and comfort each other”.

Procrastinations during the lockdown

With the multiple tasks in the minds of human rights defenders/activists at such times, many are left procrastinating on their next move and what life has to offer, recovering from the first lockdown effects and certainly overwhelmed with deliverables and restrictions. These activities impact on their lives and interfere with normalcy of work and routine. The procrastination at this time creates uncertainty and anxiety that warrants peer support interventions during the second wave. Mental health interventions, within a community of human rights defenders, create security, assurance and offer psychosocial support in real time.

We need to take action

While we ponder the move in the next 42 days, we need to be vigilant about our surroundings and associates not to catch the covid-19 virus, and those who are infected to recover fully. Our mental health status is as important as our physical health. We need to create a support system around us to be healthy mentally so as to continue being helpful to the people we serve. We need to utilize the resources within the DHRLab and any other resources at our disposal to be resilient from any mental health challenges. It’s time to use the digital elements for the betterment of our lives.