Anna Braverman

Anna (she/her) is a Master's Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University studying public international law and human security. Her research centers around the international human rights regime and the often fraught relationship between "universal" conceptions of justice and local ones. Prior to Fletcher, Anna did a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Puebla, Mexico. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Colby College with a double major in History and Classical Civilization. In her free time, Anna enjoys playing Fletcher Fútbol and creative writing.



Ethical Considerations of Travel to Uganda During COVID-19

03 Jun

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

6 Comments

  • JA

    June 4, 2021

     

    Hey Anna- hope you have a great trip in Uganda! Good use of optimistic satay in a time of pessimism. I’d love to see more posts about your arrival and the people you meet during the program.

  • Julie S

    June 4, 2021

     

    Anna, That is great, you are going to do so well there and in life. Hope we start sending the vaccine to other countries soon. Have a wonderful safe trave and can’t wait to hear about your time. If you need anything send a message any time.

  • Henry Hecht

    June 7, 2021

     

    Anna, you are a Wonder Woman! You continue to amaze me.

  • Iain

    June 9, 2021

     

    Hi Anna. This is a very good first blog and it has got me thinking. I agree that the invitation from your hosts in Uganda counts for a lot – you would have been letting them down if you had decided not to travel and you would no doubt have chided yourself later for not taking the plunge! I also feel that countries which do not have enough vaccines will be in this kind of limbo for a long time to come, with COVID-19 waves coming and going. At what point will it be OK to travel abroad and will it be any different in a year? If not, do we simply decide to stay at home indefinitely and let our friends in the South simply stew? The point is that COVID is ALL ABOUT ethical trade-offs and dilemmas. Now is as good a time as any to visit and we salute you for thinking it through and taking the plunge! Now let’s make sure it’s productive for you and your hosts! Enjoy Gulu!

  • Angelina Peterson

    June 18, 2021

     

    – The invitation/approval from your hosts is rooted in many power dynamics, and it’s uncomfortable that you haven’t acknowledged that in this post
    – I really don’t “salute you” or deem you a “Wonder Woman.” This post and your related actions don’t “amaze me,” and I wonder how you feel about these white savior-based accolades
    – I don’t only speak for myself when I assert that I don’t believe that the benefits of travel you mentioned outweigh the costs
    – a lot of important insights are missing from how you document this experience; just a few are laid out below
    https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/apr/23/western-do-gooders-need-to-resist-the-allure-of-exotic-problems
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327847826_Is_Foreign_Aid_a_facilitator_of_Neo-Colonialism_in_Africa
    https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2002/wp02183.pdf
    https://gal-dem.com/is-mid-pandemic-travel-creating-a-resurgence-of-the-white-saviour-complex/
    -https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSL9pSWq66glt2p8kSpPUX94DZMC_cIRzXW88fczOvxKWVUZgSUjDqtUI-YWOOKEJwds1p3Ernvo7OU/pub

    • Intern1

      June 23, 2021

       

      Hi Angelina,

      Thank you very much for bringing up the issue of the white-savior complex and the problematic nature of foreign aid in the global south. I did not directly address these issues because I was specifically looking at the ethical considerations of travel during COVID-19. However, perhaps I was remiss for not directly addressing the issues you brought up since they are always present; I will take the opportunity to do so now.

      – Of course, there is an uneven power dynamic between the global north and the global south, and, more specifically, between foreign donors and local recipients. Largely as a result of the toxic legacy of colonialism, Ugandans have been lulled to believe that Westerners (read: white people) will solve all their problems. Rather than look toward their government for basic services such as health care, Ugandans rely upon foreign donors. It is clear that Ugandans should be the ones at the helm of their country’s development. That being said, should Westerners leave development to their African counterparts? In an ideal world, yes. But, if foreign donors suddenly left, the country would most likely face an economic crisis and an extremely high number of otherwise avoidable deaths. The situation is a catch-22, and I look forward to your perspective.

      This brings me to the issue of sustainability. To paraphrase Teddy Ruge, founder of the tech company Hive Colab, Westerners should donate money to Ugandan initiatives rather than fund their own programs. I agree, which is the reason why I decided to intern with the Advocacy Project (AP) this summer. AP partners with local initiatives, providing material support to projects that improve the lives of local people. Ultimately, our hope is that these projects will become self-sustaining. The two Ugandan non-profits I am working with are Gulu Disabled Person’s Union (GDPU), and WAW (Women in Action for Women). They were both created by Ugandans, and continue to be run by Ugandans. My role this summer is to support the heads of these organizations and their projects in any way that they see fit; our partners are the ones who define our agenda. The first article you included advises Westerns not to “go because you want to talk,” but to “go because you want to listen.” That is, indeed, the modus operandi of AP, and my firm personal belief.

      The third article you included discusses IMF and WB conditional lending. Unlike these international institutions that operate under UN mandates, AP does not provide funding to governments, and as such the debate around the impact of IMF and WB lending on government’s commitment to reform is irrelevant in the case of AP’s financial support to nonprofits. Nor do we provide loans to partners.

      To the gal-dem article, I agree that travel during COVID-19 is risky. I arrived in Uganda the night when new restrictions were announced, and cases were rising. Two weeks later, cases continued to rise. On Friday, new restrictions were announced. The new lockdown made it effectively impossible to support our Ugandan partners on the ground. In order to best protect our partners, I made the decision on Saturday to return to New York, where I will continue to work with them remotely. I completely agree that “Covid-19 is not to be taken lightly,” especially in a country with a less than adequate healthcare system, a high percentage of people with auto-immune diseases, and elevated levels of poverty.

      – I do not consider myself a “Wonder Woman.” That is not my perspective, but that of the author of that comment. I highly suggest reaching out to that person for further clarification.

      I hope that helps!

      Kind regards,
      Anna

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