Introduction: The Karamoja sub-region (i.e. Karamoja) in Northeastern Uganda occupies 27,000 square miles of land and is currently inhabited by approximately 1.4 million diverse people – most speak the Nga’karimojong language (Feinstein International Center, 2007). It is environmentally, socially, politically and economically different from the rest of Uganda. Being largely dryland, its economy is traditionally based on livestock complemented by opportunistic crop cultivation (International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, 2019). Karamoja has 9 local governments with one referral hospital situated in Moroto district the regional administrative town in Uganda.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease of humans caused by a coronavirus newly discovered in 2019 – SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and continues to spread around the world including to Africa, where the number of cases is steadily increasing with 30,536 reported cases and 1,085 deaths as of May 4 (World Health Organization, 2020a). Uganda’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in March 2020 after a Ugandan businessman returned from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Since then, Uganda has confirmed 114 cases, with 55 recoveries and no deaths as of 3rd of May, 2020. The number of cases continues to rise. Karamoja has not yet confirmed or reported any COVID-19 cases since the onset of the pandemic. However, due to porous borders, continued inter and intra conflicts among pastoralists COVID-19 cases could come from Kenya or South Sudan across the border if stiff border security is not enforced. The facilities at the referral hospital in Moroto are able to carry out surveillance, containment, communication and case tracking activities related to COVID-19.
COVID 19 response in Uganda and Karamoja The Ugandan government through the Ministry of Health has recently implemented public health measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. These include shutting down international air travel, campaigns on social distancing, washing hands with soap and water, and the sanitization and closure of schools and most public places. As numbers have increased, the president of Uganda announced a partial lockdown that is currently in effect.
Although the lockdown is intended to be country-wide, many rural people, including those in Karamoja, are not aware of it and have continued business as usual. This indicates that information on public health measures have not reached rural communities, especially pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in the manyattas and Kraals, likely due to inadequate and limited communication channels.
Responding locally with pastoralists The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 response guidelines are global in nature and therefore need to be contextualized from the bottom to top through a participatory approach that respects the fact that communities have previous experiences in managing similar health challenges. It is therefore important to harness local knowledge to enhance the pandemic response.
The Young Volunteers Group (YVG) of ALIN Africa conducted an outreach with selected pastoralist local leaders, Village Health teams (VHTs) and kraal leaders in Kaabong East and Lodiko sub counties of Kaabong District to identify gaps linked to COVID 19 information access and flow to rural people (Pastoralists and Agro-pastoralists) while responding to the pandemic. During community outreach at manyattas and kraals that took place over a weeklong period, a number of limitations in regard to COVID-19 public health measures were identified. These included limited access to water, soap and health services. Pastoralists asked how they could buy soap without an income due to the closure of livestock markets. The pastoralists also asked on how they could stay at home when they don’t have food to eat or find clean water when the boreholes are far away and have dried up.
Based on this initial outreach and the identified shortcomings of the COVID-19 response in Karamoja, Arid landscape Initiative (ALIN Africa) a social think tank on pastoralism and natural resource governance received financial support from AfriFood and EuroAfri Link (EAL) to implement a COVID-19 sensitization and awareness campaign from April 26th to May 1st among manyattas and kraals in parts of Kaabong East and Lodiko sub county. Young Volunteer Group (YVG) of ALIN Africa led the campaign with the support of the Kaabong District Task Force (KDTF) on COVID-19 in Kaabong East and Lodiko Sub-Counties. The campaign included COVID-19 health promotion, engagement on community-based solutions to the pandemic in Karamoja, and the distribution of 49 cartons of soap to 1,225 pastoralists’ households and impacting 9,800 members of the Household in the community and about 1,050 livestock keepers over a six-day period.
The following Manyattas have been reached out during sensitization: Moruayao, Loburiekori, Naita, Toroae, Kalongor, Simalok, Nayangasae, Napetabul, Nariyobwel and Lokolia health center. The kraals reached include: Loburi ekori and Simalok kraal all in Kaabong East and Lodiko Sub counties of Kaabong District.
Safeguarding pastoralist livelihoods Noting that COVID-19 brings about other shortcomings among rural communities, sensitization and awareness activities did not focus solely on the direct health impacts of the virus. The team of volunteers also highlighted ways communities can respond to impacts caused by lockdowns and the closure of other systems, including food insecurity, gender violence and conflict management. Pastoralists were encouraged to graze animals, go on farm, harvest firewood, honey, wild fruits, edible leaves and mushrooms while following physical and social distancing guidelines in order to keep the community food secure.
ALIN Africa in the process of sensitization also took keen interest to understand the local actions taken in the past to respond to related devastating outbreaks like cholera and livestock diseases. Communities noted “that in the past numbers of sick people was overwhelming and hundreds of people died by 1980s due to cholera outbreak”. But local actions such as isolation, good feeding and treatment of infected persons with local herbs secured lives of some community members before the catholic missionaries and Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) stepped in to rescue the situation. This provides an example of how local experience and strategies can help to combat COVID-19.
Pastoralists are not static to change. They are rather quick to adapt to any crisis at hand. Participatory decision making to safeguard livelihoods is critical for communities.Loupa Pius 2020
As Young Volunteer Group (YVG) of ALIN Africa, we want to support and secure our pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in the fight against COVID-19. Our goal is to reach 15,000 pastoralists and agro-pastoralist in rural Karamoja especially youths (herders), women in mayattas and kraals. Our starting point is Kaabong District. We stand together to acknowledge the generous support of AfriFood, EuroAfri Link (EAL)and Government of Uganda (GoU) through Ministry of Health (MoH) and Kaabong District Task Force (KDTF) towards a strengthened pastoral community with an ability to respond to COVID-19. The disruptions that COVID-19 has had on livelihoods, operations and markets are severe, especially in pastoral areas where tough measures affecting mobility, market access and resources have been instituted. Together with our partners, we are focused on working with pastoralists and agro-pastoralists to develop a community based approach to COVID-19 that protects public health, food security and livelihoods.
Our impacts in photos kindly visit AfriFood here impact on COVID 19 support the partnership fighting the impacts of COVID 19 on small holder farmers and pastoralists in Africa by donating to Euro Afri Link through the link donate today anything you can.
This report has been compiled by Nawoton Oliver (journalism student), Loupa Pius (Agroecologist), Lopeyok Francis (Pastoralist) and Muya James (Pastoralist) team members of Young Volunteer Group (YVG) of Arid Landscape Initiative (ALIN Africa). It was edited by Evan Griffith (DVM/MPH student at Tufts University).
- Feinstein International Center, 2007: The Scramble for Cattle, Power and Guns in Karamoja. Available at https://fic.tufts.edu/assets/The+Scramble+for+Cattle1.pdf
- International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs 2019 Indigenous people of Uganda report. Availablehttps://www.iwgia.org/en/uganda/3490-iw2019-uganda.html
- World Health Organization. (2020a). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Situational Report – 105. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200504-covid-19-sitrep-105.pdf?sfvrsn=4cdda8af_2 World Health Organization. (2020a). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Situational Report – 105.