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Covid 19 Survivors’ Plea

Medical experts in Nakuru have warned that stigmatisation of people who have either recovered from Covid-19 or are suspected to have contracted the disease is becoming one of the major challenges in managing spread of the pandemic.
Nakuru Teaching and Referral Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Joseph Mburu said rejection of Covid-19 victims by their communities is hindering provision of medical care and preventing disclosure of potential Coronavirus infections, factors he cautioned could increase infection rates in the country.
Dr Mburu who spoke moments after authorising discharge of two confirmed Covid-19 victims who have fully recovered noted that public awareness campaigns and the mass media have ‘strongly’ focused on social distancing and isolation creating an impression that those infected are social outcasts or criminals.
“As we fully embrace guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health towards combating spread of Covid-19, public awareness campaigns on the pandemic need also to stress psychological support for patients.
The biggest threat to overcoming the spread of Covid-19 is the social stigma associated with its patients and doctors treating this illness. This is mainly due to misinformation that has circulated in the media and a lack of public awareness. The citizens need to realise that the disease is not a disgrace,” he added.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui offered that he was aware of cases where persons who had been released from Covid-19 quarantine and isolation centres were being subjected to stigma even after they have been confirmed not to be a risk in spreading the virus.
“Stopping stigma is important for us to create a society that is resilient to the pandemic. Some of the recovering Covid-19 patients and those cleared to leave isolation centres have been subjected to social rejection among others.
We have incorporated counseling for both those held at Isolation facilities and their families towards ensuring that they are successfully reintegrated into the society after their quarantine or treatment. To enhance recovery and make this war against Covid-19 a success, Kenyans must stop discrimination,” asserted Mr. Kinyanjui.
One of the recovered Covid-19 people, a 23 year old man we shall call JN to protect his identity said he was very happy with how health workers at the Nakuru Teaching and Referral Hospital ensured his movement was limited to avoid any infection.
“I am happy that the health officers monitored my progress and accorded me very elaborate medical care. Their selfless efforts have ensured that the two of us are now fully recovered. This is for the good of Kenyans.
Once out there we are yearning to be reintegrated into the society as we have been through a harrowing and lonely 24 hours a day schedule where you are supposed to spend time alone, without any physical contact with the outside world.
That is the life that Kenyans in isolation or quarantine are living. And after many days in solitude which changed our lifestyles in a major way, it will be great disservice to survivors of Covid-19 to be subjected to stigmatisation and discrimination,” offered JN.
The 23 year old says his quick recovery was largely due to moral encouragement that he received from medical practitioners and support staff at the facility, who encouraged him to stick to doctors’ instructions and always reminded him that there was hope for a great future.
The second Covid-19 survivor who has been given a clean bill of health by doctors recounted that due to the isolation during her treatment, she found herself with a lot of time in her hands and her schedule had to entirely change. We shall refer to her as PL.
What are the lessons learned as she underwent treatment and medical observation? She sighed, took a deep breath and declared,“I had a very casual attitude towards the disease and never thought that I could be a victim. I now know as President Uhuru Kenyatta has repeatedly declared that we are all equal and that this disease cannot spare anybody and all of us are vulnerable no matter who you are. The virus is an equalizer.”
In a rare and bold show of remorse PL says that she regrets that she boarded a Public Service Vehicle all the way from Mombasa to Nakuru before she was intercepted in Nakuru on March 31 after exhibiting symptoms consistent with Covid-19 disease.
“It is a decision that still haunts me. I feel guilty that I may have exposed innocent and unsuspecting citizens to this dangerous pestilence. I have already undergone counseling, all I ask is for my relatives and friends to welcome me back to the society,” she petitioned.
PL said the treatment and isolation period were the most stressful part of her life since she was confined to one place without interacting with people she equated the normal eight hours at home to a month in an Isolation or quarantine facility.
According to the John Hopkins University’s Centre for Communications, misconceptions, rumors and misinformation are major contributors to stigma and discrimination which in turn hamper response efforts in combating the disease.
The Center warns that this can result in more severe health problems and difficulties controlling the disease outbreak since the stigma drives people to hide illness to avoid discrimination, prevents them from seeking health care immediately and ultimately discourages them from adopting healthy behaviours.
Dr Mburu said the slowly but steadily creeping Coronavirus related stigma has the possibility of complicating and slowing down the implementation of intervention strategies being put in place by the government to both treat Covid-19 patients and stem the increase in infections.
“As experts we have noted that Corona related stigma is slowly creeping in and has the potential to complicate response against the highly infectious disease,” the Medical Superintendent.
Dr Mburu says deliberate efforts designed to fight stigma and discrimination directed against Covid-19 patients and those suspected to have come into contact with them should be amplified if the fight against the disease that mainly targets respiratory organs is to be brought under control.
Covid-19 associated stigma in the country is mainly being fueled by insufficient knowledge about the new disease, how it is transmitted and treated and how to effectively prevent infection.
Experts are now calling on the Ministry of Health to prioritise the collection, consolidation and dissemination of accurate country and community specific information about affected regions, individuals and vulnerable groups.
By Anne Mwale By Anne Mwale

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