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.”

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

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