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A meme being shared across social media has falsely suggested the low COVID-19 death toll in Uganda is due to hydroxychloroquine being used widely by the population.
The post, which has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook since September 16 (here), says just 19 people have died with COVID-19 in Uganda. It goes on to suggest this number is linked to people eating the anti-malarial drug “like candy”.
The meme reads: “News flash! Uganda (43,000,000 people), where hydroxychloroquine is eaten like candy due to malaria, have had 19 Covid deaths. 19! Not 19,000! Not 1,900! Not 190! 19!”
As of Sept. 29, 75 COVID-related deaths have been reported in Uganda along with 7,777 infections. Despite this being a higher number than cited in the meme, it is still a relatively low figure considering the size of the country and compared with the rest of the world.
The reason is not entirely clear, but it is inaccurate to suggest a link to Ugandans taking hydroxychloroquine “like candy” for malaria. In the early 2000s, treatment for malaria in the east African nation often consisted of a mix of chloroquine and sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) (here), but this treatment policy was changed in 2005 to focus on artemisinin-based therapies (here). Early into the COVID-19 pandemic, in April, Ugandan officials said they had been using hydroxychloroquine on some virus patients (here), but the practice had been halted by July (here, here). This was a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) discontinued experimental treatments involving the use of hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir after the initial results of an international trial showed the drugs produced little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalised COVID-19 patients (here, here).
Instead, experts have suggested Uganda’s low death toll may have more to do with an aggressive lockdown imposed early in the crisis, and three days before it confirmed its first domestic case (here, here). Other reports have said the limited capacity of the Ugandan health system may mean many infections and deaths have not been reported (here) .
False. Ugandans do not take hydroxychloroquine “like candy” and it is no longer used to treat COVID-19 patients. Studies have found the drug has little effect on hospitalised patients suffering from the virus. No-one has established a definitive reason for the country’s low death toll, but it is believed to be likely due to a fast and strict response to the pandemic, along with some cases going unreported.
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