Op-ed: The law on wearing facial mask is controversial

Uganda's Prime Minister Dr Rhuakana Rugunda. Courtesy photo.


By Olet Stephen Charles

Kampala—28, May 2020: There lingers a lot of unresolved controversies around the recently amended public health (control of COVID-19) rules with the inclusion of clause 8A which states that every person shall, at all times, while outside his or her place of residence, wear a facial mask.

I do agree that the law is of much importance and it was put in place to protect the lives of Ugandans through curbing the spread of coronavirus but it looks like; we copied the law from another country and pasted into the Ugandan Statutory Instrument [SI] without considering the Ugandan context.

The Ministry of Health should provide more guidance on safety and proper use of masks because if people don’t receive ongoing instruction and emphasis on the previous behaviors that reduce infections, some people may think the masks have come as a replacement and one obvious fact is that majority of Ugandans don’t know how to properly use masks. I have already observed some people wearing masks leaving the nose uncovered.

When people are told to do something without being given clear instruction, it will definitely become a safety issue. Imagine individuals deep in villages who used to only see face masks being worn by health professionals taking care of T.B patients. Seriously, such people are vulnerable to improper use of facial masks.

Another controversial issue remains that not every mask has high protection efficiency against transmission of viruses. Basing on my medical knowledge, only N95, surgical masks and FFP1 masks have 95% protection efficiency from viruses whereas other masks have below 10% protection efficiency against viruses.

The Ministry of Health has restricted use of N95 face masks to only health professionals
The Ministry of Health has restricted use of N95 face masks to only health professionals

Much as masks help to prevent transmission of the virus, they can also be a major source of infection if not properly used. For the masks to serve their purpose effectively, those who wear masks often are supposed to change after a specific number of hours which would require buying a new mask for the case of disposable masks.

But that is almost impossible for individuals who are struggling financially. To some people, the masks may mean they can cough and sneeze without covering their mouth, with a perception that the droplets will not enter through the mask.

The author is a Medical Epidemiologist

Email: Stecho36@gmail.com

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