Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

The Ugandan good Samaritan sanitising hospitals and police stations

This story is part of a series called ‘On the Frontline’, first published in The Continent, which profiles some of the heroes on the frontline of Africa’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Download your free copy of The Continent here.

Nsibirwa Semu arrives at Entebbe Referral Hospital at 3pm each day. Cleaning products in tow, the 45-year-old IT consultant and sales manager dons protective gear and begins to disinfect the hospital  — from the wards where Covid-19 patients and those awaiting results are receiving treatment, to the nurses’ stations and corridors.

He then heads to the police station just a stone’s throw away, greeting officers and detainees alike before proceeding to disinfect the entire premises  — and the prisoners themselves.

From there he will move on to Kisubi and Kajjansi police stations, where again he will disinfect every nook and cranny before finally heading home at about 6pm.

Uganda announced its first Covid-19 case on March 22. Eager to help, Semu drove to the hospital in Entebbe from his home in Bunga, Kampala and asked what he could do to help. The team told him to come back the next day and meet the directors.

As he left, he noticed that no one appeared to be disinfecting the hospital, so the following day he returned with protective equipment and cleaning supplies and asked if he could help with that, to which the staff happily agreed.

Aware that the police station was nearby and that in some cases police officers had been called upon to transport suspected Covid-19 patients from their homes to the hospital, he decided the same should be done there, too.

As someone interested in current affairs, he had always had the news on at work and was following developments concerning the pandemic closely. Semu had also read up on how best to curb the spread of the coronavirus so, struck by the lack of protective equipment he saw at the hospital at the time, he also handed out the few gloves and masks he had to healthcare workers.

Staff at the hospital, although grateful, had assumed his visit was simply a one-off. Yet the next day he arrived again. And then each day after that, using his own money to purchase the cleaning products. One week, when swarms of Nairobi Fly beetles descended upon the hospital, Semu even took it upon himself to fumigate the premises.

“People saying thank you, appreciating what I am doing is what has kept me going back every day,” he says. “From the patients to the prisoners, the appreciation they have shown me is incredible.”

Although many would understandably be reluctant to volunteer such a service for fear of contracting the virus, Semu says he believes in “faith over fear”.

As a practising Christian, he says, he draws strength from his religion  — but also a sense of gratitude that he has both the opportunity and means to help.

“It feels important to be of service to those that may feel forgotten, like those in prison. Perhaps there would have been others willing to disinfect the hospital  — but jails? Police stations? ‘Who else will do it if not me’ is what I ask myself.”

During one of his trips, a policeman told him that the station had never been disinfected in the five years he had been there and that even now, with Covid-19 to contend with, he had not expected that to change.

Beyond the gratitude expressed by those he has met, Semu has received countless messages of thanks from strangers because of the local media attention he has garnered.

Although grateful for the recognition, the father of three says his real aim is for his actions to go beyond Covid-19 and inspire people to remember that any act of goodwill, no matter how small, can help to make things better.

“I’m giving my resources and time,” says Semu. “As long as I have those, I will keep on going.”

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Samira Sawlani
Samira Sawlani
Samira Sawlani is a writer, journalist and analyst, specialising in East Africa.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

South Africa’s mothballed ‘supermall-ification’ sets strip malls up for success

Analysts agree that the country has enough malls and that, post-Covid, the convenience of local centres lure customers

Mabuza’s Russian jaunts and the slippery consequences of medical tourism

For more than five years the deputy president has remained steadfast in his right to travel abroad to receive medical treatment

More top stories

Deputy president Mabuza begs Tshwane voters: ‘Don’t abandon the ANC’

Angry Atteridgeville residents hurl insults at ‘dysfunctional’ ANC full of ‘corrupt individuals’ as Mabuza fails to placate them with party T-shirts and doeks

Taxi operators clash with cops over disputed Route B97 in...

Three suspects remain in custody following their arrest on charges of attempted murder and assault after eight taxis were impounded

SA teens, you’re next in the queue for a vaccine...

Teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 will be able to register to receive their Covid-19 jab from 20 October. This group will be given only one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, for now

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell dies aged 84

The 84-year-old died as a result of complications from Covid-19

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…