I have made the decision to stay in Gulu, Uganda for ten weeks this summer as a Peace Fellow with the Advocacy Project (AP). This was not an easy decision, because COVID-19 has painted in stark relief the ethical questions that come with traveling to third-world countries. Inadequate health care, high rates of autoimmune diseases, and widespread poverty make Uganda particularly susceptible to COVID outbreaks, and negative outcomes for sick patients. Given the situation, why did I elect to travel?
Most importantly, AP’s Uganda partners have invited me to come. The Ugandans with whom we work know the on-the-ground situation best, and have assessed the risk of my stay to be minimal enough that the benefits of having an AP partner in Gulu outweighs the costs. Furthermore, the government of Uganda has granted me a tourist visa. In their expert opinion, my entry does not sufficiently risk the wellbeing of the Ugandan people.
I have planned my travel to be as COVID safe as possible. I am fully vaccinated. 24-hours before traveling, I will take a PCR test that I must present before boarding the plane in New York. Upon return to the United States, I will also take a PCR test (available at the Entebbe airport). I will travel directly from Entebbe to Gulu with a hired driver, and will keep my mask on at all times inside the car. In Gulu, I am staying in my own building within a compound. The compound has its own restaurant, so I will be able to eat my meals in my room. In the case that I need to quarantine, I can safely do so there. I will travel to and from meetings with a hired driver, and will wear a mask. I will conduct meetings outside whenever possible (it is the rainy season), and maintain social distancing.
In reality, most people with whom I interact will not be masked, and will not maintain social distancing. I am not responsible for their choices, but I am responsible for my own. I believe that the preventive measures I take will prevent others from possibly contracting the virus.
Although I am fully vaccinated and will adopt best COVID-safe practices, only 0.6% of the population of Uganda has been fully vaccinated, and around 5.8% of the adult population are HIV+. Furthermore, hospitals are notoriously underfunded, and have low technical efficiency. This means that Ugandans are at high risk for severe COVID cases, and negative outcomes given hospitalization. This begs the question: As a fully vaccinated person, can I still contract and, more importantly, spread the virus? Recent studies have shown that vaccinated people who contract the virus are less infectious because they have less virus in their systems. Further supporting the conclusion that vaccinated people are extremely unlikely to spread the virus is the finding that fully immunized participants were 25 times less likely to test positive for COVID-19 than were those who were unvaccinated. Although there is a small chance that I may contract the virus, there is an even smaller chance that I will spread it.
Even if I am unlikely to contract or spread COVID, I may get sick from another illness and take up space and resources at a health clinic that would otherwise go to a Ugandan. This is an issue that is present in non-COVID times, but is especially salient during the pandemic. In order to prevent severe illness, I have gotten vaccinated against yellow fever (a requirement to enter the country) and typhoid, and will take malaria pills for the duration of my stay. In order to treat a possible infection without the need for a doctor’s visit, I am bringing antibiotics. These measures, in addition to my COVID-safe practices, should protect me from contracting an illness that necessitates a visit to the hospital.
I believe, along with AP’s Uganda partners, that the benefits of travel outweigh the costs. I look forward to your comments!
Posted By Anna Braverman
Posted Jun 3rd, 2021