Ebola Restrictions in Mubende, Kassanda Districts Craft New Puzzle for UNEB

Presidential directives about the Ebola epidemic that among other things, imposed a lockdown on Mubende and Kasanda districts have created an unexpected gap in the handling of the examination process within the affected areas.

President Yoweri Museveni imposed a 21-day lockdown on the central Uganda districts to contain an Ebola outbreak that has already claimed 19 lives in the country. But the president’s address came hours to the first day of the Uganda Certificate of Education examinations across the country.

While he said schools will remain open, the restrictions on the movement of people to and from the two districts and other conditions as announced last evening are now upsetting authorities in the Uganda National Examinations Board-UNEB, Mubende, and Kasanda local governments as well as ministries of education and health.

A source from UNEB says that the examination body is currently concerned about the safety, health and movement of scouts, invigilators, and candidates who have to make inter-district journeys in order to take part in this year’s examinations.

“This is a catch-22 situation. Some invigilators stay either in Mityana and are deployed in Kassanda or Mubende and vice versa. There are candidates staying in the neighbouring districts. That aside, the movement of scouts also needs further guidance,” the source noted.

Joseph Ssebitosi, an inspector of schools in Mubende, also wondered how candidates and teachers will move given the ban on public and private transport. Sebitosi says that many teachers and students alike commute using public transport, mainly taxi and bodaboda, to reach their schools on a daily basis. He, however, said that the Resident District Commissioner was expected to convene an emergency meeting to discuss how the situation will be handled.

The UNEB headquarters in Ntinda is already a beehive of activities as the examination body makes the final distribution of materials across the country. However, top officials are also currently racing against time to ensure that there are clear guidelines on how the examinations will be handled in Mubende and Kassanda.

UNEB spokesperson Jennifer Kalule confirmed to our reporter that by noon, UNEB officials, security authorities and representatives from the health ministry had started engaging to see how the matter will be handled. She, however, added that the examinations in the two districts will go on as scheduled.

Kalule said that UNEB has tentatively directed its scouts and other officials, who are scheduled to work in Mubende and Kassanda, to proceed to police stations in neighbouring districts as they wait for what will come out of the series of meetings that are presently being held. Similarly, officials who are currently in Mubende and Kassanda but were deployed in other areas have also been put on similar standby.

Kalule added that schools across the country are expected to hold the examinations under strict observance of the Standard Operating Procedures that were used in the last examination cycle held in July 2021 which came at a time when the country was experiencing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

To ensure the safety of learners and other officials, the board ordered two-meter social distancing, wearing face masks, washing hands and recording of temperature for every person that accesses the schools. In addition, Kalule said that the board is also considering how to handle candidates suspected of having Ebola throughout the course of the examination. 

“There is a suggestion that such candidates if they are still able to write, can be isolated at the centre. This needs further guidance on how it can be done; How the candidate or candidates will be supervised. But, the board has already noted that if a learner cannot be isolated at the centre then he or she must forego the examination.” she said.

According to a second UNEB source, the board is also expected to debate scenarios in which examination officials like scouts or invigilators refuse to work in Mubende or contract the dreaded disease.

“There are already whispers that certain authorities plan to stay away from Mubende for personal reasons. Since exams in that area have not been halted, the board must develop a plan B outlining how to redeploy and payment of those who incur additional expenditure given the circumstances,” the source noted.

However, Kalule was unable to confirm or refute this. In just one month from the moment the dangerous illness was discovered in Mubende, Uganda’s Ebola caseload increased to nearly 60 as of October 15.   

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