WHEN DR. ATWINE REFUSED TO FLEE OFFICE EVEN AFTER 50 AIDES TESTED POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS
At the beginning of June, some random testing was carried out among the hundreds of staff working at the Ministry of Health headquarters. And the results were shocking; a whopping 50 employees were positive for Coronavirus. The response of the majority, as can be expected, was shock, emotional distress and resignation. In their resigned mood, many pondered quitting for good because here was a job, risky as it seemed, that required each one of them to directly and indirectly participate in the overall coordination of the country’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic to which close to 3,000 Ugandans have since lost their lives (leaving many widowed and orphaned).
For the Permanent Secretary Dr. Diana Atwine Kanzira, who had been leading and coordinating the sector for months without support from the Ministerial level (Jane Ruth Aceng, Robinah Nabanja, Moriku Kaducu etc had all gone to campaign for MP positions and Gen M7 only reappointed them later), this understandably had to be very frightening. And more so that the 50 positives comprised of some aides and staff closely working under her Secretariat/Office as PS. This actually made her a contact though her results consistently returned negative (and thank God to this day, the much-demonized PS hasn’t contracted the virus despite her busy schedule and frequent exposure).
As can be expected, there was pressure from friends, development partners, stakeholders and family that Dr. Atwine does the prudent thing by scaling down on her office engagements and begins working from home like many do these days. This was supposed to be a precautionary measure but Dr. Atwine declined even when some of her close aides, assistants and office staff were in ICU fighting for their life (some are yet to return to office). She kept in touch giving them all the support she could yet amidst all that understandable dilemma and emotional uncertainty, Dr. Atwine kept coming to office, attending to whatever required her attention as if nothing had happened.
Some of her close aides took as long as long as 30-40 or even more days in UCU but that never disrupted Dr. Atwine’s eye off the ball (which was continuing to coordinate the countrywide response). She had to endure all these emotional challenges amidst a barrage of fake news and demonization by politicians, bloggers and mainstream media. “She told us if anyone was going to ever die in office or at work in the line of duty, then this had to be her. She told us allowing to be overcome by fear and opting to stay at home simply because a growing number of staff were testing positive would be cowardly surrender which was not in her vocabulary. But sometimes, when the demonization became too much moreover from leaders she expected to be in the know of what the truth was, we feared her health would get affected and she suffers a complex medical condition but God is good she pushed through and carried on. She repeatedly said it would be irresponsibility and an act of letting down the President and the people of Uganda running away from work simply because she is hiding for fear of Covid19.”
That Dr. Atwine not only refused to scale down on her work-related engagements but also maintained her routine schedule whereby her day most of the time begins at 4am attending to Gen Museveni for whom she remains chief physician before driving back to the Wandegeya-based Ministry for work where her day typically begins at 6am. “She is always in that early and typically leaves office for home past 10pm. That schedule never changed even when she was fully aware of the need to have adequate rest as that is one of the ways to boost one’s body immunity in this difficult Covid19 period.”
The source, who has known Atwine and closely worked under her supervision for more than 15 years, says that doing it that way, ironically, is one way Dr. Atwine manages to keep strong “because she will avoid emotionally breaking down looking at her children as she leaves early returning very late at the same time; the trick is she leaves them sleeping and finds them sleeping.” It’s also true that 48-year old Atwine can practically not manage or afford going on leave because even if she was to excuse herself away from MoH, the President’s schedule will come into the picture and impact on hers too.
The H.E. is very hard working, sleeps so little and never takes leave of his Presidential duties yet, being his personal Doctor, Atwine must be available to attend to him ensuring he is in good health at all times. “That is why she simply can’t afford being on leave because even if she isn’t engaged in Ministry of Health business, the President’s schedule will keep her up and running all the time,” says one of the deeply knowledgeable sources we spoke to for this article. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994, 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).