Frank Ntege vividly recalls this home in Kira Municipality in the Ugandan district of Wakiso, where he took a team from the Ministry of Health to collect a COVID-19 sample. The middle-aged gentleman, Ntege says, was so welcoming and friendly and made the health team feel at home as they took the sample. Unfortunately, the test results turned out positive and the gentleman later died – one of Uganda’s now 69 victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I felt sooo sad. It was so sad,” says Ntege, 42, an IOM driver since 2009.
For five months now, Ntege and another colleague have been part of IOM Uganda’s contribution to the Uganda Government’s COVID-19 response in supporting the contact tracing which entails driving health teams to trace contacts and/or pick samples.
Traditionally, Ntege worked between 8am and 5.30pm, with the odd earlier start or later finish, depending on the project/unit he was supporting. His work involved delivering colleagues to and from meetings or field activities, transporting samples and results between IOM and external labs, and taking refugees to Entebbe International Airport for resettlement.
As a contact-tracing driver, life is more frantic.
“This is a little taxing. It is hectic, and of course risky because we go to be people who turn out to be positive. At the beginning, it was a little tense because you are worried you can contract the virus, but now we are used. And then sometimes you go contact tracing and people are hostile and you fail to get the samples. Sometimes the health team has to call the Police or Special Forces for backup.”
These days, Ntege parks the IOM vehicle at the Transit Centre in the Nakasero suburb of Kampala, which is closer to the Ministry of Health. He leaves home shortly after 6AM and drives there and pick the office vehicle and drive to the Ministry. Often, he starts work between 7Am and 8AM, by driving the respective teams to where they have been called for contact tracing and sample collection.
As a driver, he tries to take all precautions, carrying sanitizers, gloves and face masks.
Life feels much busier now because at IOM, there are periods when he can ‘catch his breath’, for instance between dropping and picking up programme staff. But now he is “up and down” for much of the day. He often retires at around 6pm or 8pm – especially if there are samples to be taken to the referral laboratory in Butabika hospital or to Uganda Virus Research Institute laboratory in Entebbe, 38 km from Kampala.
Still, Ntege is grateful to IOM for giving him this opportunity to serve his country in this way in these difficult times. He is happy that the Ministry of Health officials appreciate IOM’s contribution to the COVID-19 response, through supporting the surveillance and screening at the Points of Entry, contact tracing and provision of supplies and equipment to the Ministry of Health to support the points of entry including the airport
“The return by IOM of 113 Ugandan women from Saudi Arabia where they were stranded has been really appreciated by the public. Many people tell us they did not know that IOM Uganda could do something like that,” Ntege says.
Besides the friendly gentleman who would die from COVID-19, Ntege’s other abiding memory was when he took the health team to the Kireka palace of the Kabaka (traditional monarch of the Buganda kingdom) to take the king’s sample. For him, it was a rare opportunity to enter the palace; but what was more, he says, people, including the king, were so welcoming.