President Yoweri Museveni often speaks fondly of his fitness routine and healthy eating habits. Photo / Yoweri Museveni

By Susan Mwongeli

Public servants in Uganda will have to undertake a two-hour physical exercise session every week in a government-ordered campaign to tame the cost of keeping them healthy.

The East African country's head of public service, Lucy Nakyobe, has ordered heads of state institutions to implement the directive with immediate effect.

The Government of Uganda also tweeted to explain that the campaign was meant "to tame the rising burden of lifestyle diseases" among its ranks.

It comes weeks after the authorities released a demographic and health survey that indicated a rise in obesity in the country from 17% to 26% over the last 17 years.

The head of public service said the initiative on physical fitness followed a recommendation from the health ministry, but it is unclear how compliance will be enforced.

Serious attention

In her letter, Nakyobe asked heads of public institutions to give the matter serious attention, saying physical exercises would help save the lives of public servants and reduce disease burden on the government.

Medical experts say lack of physical exercise and poor eating habits could lead to obesity, which increases the risk of getting lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and stroke.

On social media, the initiative has been welcomed with users urging for day-offs for public servants to be able to comply with the directive.

"Good idea, however it could be better if every employer gives the employee a day off in a week for exercise," said @RichieMafie.

Others questioned whether there was budget for enrollment to gyms.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that 24% of women and 9% of men in Uganda aged between 15 and 49 years were overweight or obese.

"The prevalence of hypertension and diabetes among adults in Uganda is gradually increasing over the years, with women having a higher prevalence of 27.7% and 4.7% as compared to males with 26.7% and 4.4% respectively," the WHO said.

The agency said that heart diseases, diabetes, and respiratory disorders contribute to 33% of deaths in Uganda.

Fit judiciary

This is not the first time Uganda has sought to make its public servants fitter.

In 2009, then-permanent secretary for the judiciary, Pius Bigirimana, introduced weekly physical exercise sessions among judges, magistrates and other judicial staff members.

President Yoweri Museveni has regularly displayed his fondness for physical exercise and Ugandan delicacy. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, he posted a video of his workout regime on social media to encourage people to keep fit during lockdown.

In neighbouring Rwanda, the government introduced Kigali car-free day in 2016 in what authorities said was meant to prevent lifestyle diseases.

On this day, Rwandan motorists are encouraged to ditch their vehicles and use environmentally friendly transport like cycling and walking. The car-free day is held every first and third Sunday of the month.

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TRT Afrika