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LONELY JOURNEY

Patients with Covid but no symptoms still fight stigma

How Covid-19 patients are fighting the stigma

In Summary

• Asymptomatic patients are reluctant to tell their neighbours, friends due to stigma

• Most patients don't have symptoms and only discover they are positive after testing

Citizen TV reporter Stephen Letoo
Citizen TV reporter Stephen Letoo
Image: COURTESY

Kyle* (not her real name), 27, was diagnosed with Covid-19 through contact tracing.

The saleswoman's mother had tested positive, and they had interacted several times as Kyle was taking her to hospital.

Kyle was fine and had only experienced a brief tickle in the throat. “The rest, I think I was just overthinking thus would feel them as a result,” she says.

"At one point, I just wanted someone to talk to, and anytime I told friends I was Covid-19 positive, they started to avoid my calls and WhatsApp chats."

She started calling the people she had interacted with to go for check-up and stay home until the results are out.

“Some went, while some never bothered,” she said.

TV anchor Jeff Koinange said he was asymptomatic but never had any challenge.

“I really feel good. I’m asymptomatic, according to the test. The only thing I’m experiencing is a lack of taste. It keeps going and coming back,” Koinange said during his bulletin on Citizen on JKL.

“The virus attacks the body differently, depending on the individual, so the moment you have any one of the symptoms, you should be tested.”

UPON GETTING RESULTS...

“I encourage those who have it to go public so we kill the stigma”

NOT DEATH SENTENCE

Kyle is among the 86 per cent of Kenyans who are asymptomatic, according to the Ministry of Health. A number of them discover they are Covid-19 positive after a random medical test.

They experience mild or no Covid-19 signs, which include sore throat, fever or difficulty in breathing.

"We estimate that one in 20 adults in Kenya had SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] antibodies during the study period,” an August Kemri report says.

Star business reporter Victor Amadala sasy he had a simple flu.

“I know you know the lines, 'Do you know anyone who knows someone who has contracted coronavirus?' That was the question on my lips a month ago, dismissing daily briefings by Health CS Mutahi Kagwe as an exaggerated narrative by capitalists',” he said.

“I kept attending to my normal duties, unwillingly observing Covid-19 preventive measures. Early last month, I lost a friend to the virus and four others confirmed to me they had been infected. I woke up from my ignorance, the reality of the pandemic hitting closer home.”

Amadala himself was hit by flu three days after attending the Loon balloon launch in Baringo on July 9.

“My body temperature rose to 38.3. I became worried and went to a hospital at Sarit Centre, Nairobi, where I was given some pain killers and asked to report back in case the flu worsens, "he said.

"The drugs worked wonders, with me fully recovering a week later.”

However, he wished to test for Covid-19 just to enable him further intensify precautionary measures for his family.

“Luckily, my employer, Radio Africa Group announced mass testing in the week starting July 20. I was in the second bunch that tested on July 23, receiving my positive results the following Sunday,” he said.

He said the doctor was good and encouraged him. She took his details, the kind of house, number of people staying with him, location and gave him quick preventive measures to observe in self-quarantine.

“My wife overheard the telephone conversation, so did my eight-year-old daughter. That saved me the hustle of narrating to them. I briefed them on the new normal and quickly relocated to an extra bedroom, where I'm self-quarantining,” he said.

“Covid-19 is not a death sentence. The majority of those infected have recovered.”

The first thing that came to my mind was death versus survival. Will I manage or will I die? I was restless, down and confused
Citizen TV reporter Stephen Letoo

THE STIGMA

Citizen TV political reporter Stephen Letoo discovered he was Covid-19 positive after he was tested through a mass testing drive. He had no signs associated with the virus.

“The first thing that came to my mind was death versus survival. Will I manage or will I die? I was restless, down and confused. But I am a warrior and had to put on a strong face and face the task ahead,” he told the Star on the phone.

After going into isolation, Letoo told his family and friends he had tested Covid-19 positive.

“Covid-19 is real.  I didn’t feel the pain myself but I saw my mama going through a lot of pain, which is very distressing,” she said.

Asymptomatic patients interviewed by the Star said they have been going through a lot in isolation, and it is unfair for the society to treat them harshly even after they have healed.

They told the Star that they are ready for an interview but are afraid to give out their names since they are not sure how society will treat them going forward.

“I encourage those who have it to go public so we kill the stigma,” Amadala said.

Health CAS Rashid Aman said the stigma undermines testing and treating efforts. This leaves everyone at risk of contracting the virus.

“No one is free of the virus until all of us are free,” Aman said last month.

Letoo also asked the public to shun stigma and help patients recover fast.

“My appeal to Kenyans is let us stop the stigma. Let us help kill the Covid-19 stigma,” Letoo said.

“Let us avoid stigmatising Covid-19 patients and support the patient to heal fast.”

Kyle told the Star she is afraid to let her neighbours know she tested positive since she is not sure how they will take it.

“The place where I stay, no one knows. I'm afraid of how they will treat me when they discover I am Covid-19 positive. A number of close friends shunned me the minute I called them to tell them I was positive. They have never talked to me again,” she said.

She said she is scared of going out again because she doesn’t know if people will be scared of her.

LIFE IN ISOLATION

Kyle stayed home bored and watching movies during isolation.

“I lived with someone who tested negative. That means I was to put on the mask in the house,” she said.

“I miss a hug.”

She was forced to use disposable cups, spoons and plates at home and be extra careful.

“My eating habits changed, too. I incorporated the garlic, ginger and lemon concoction for Vitamins C, B and Zinc. I also took a lot of fruits and a lot of water. Gargling of salty water before sleeping,” she said.

She said working from home has been a challenge since she can’t meet clients, which has affected her end-month earnings as a salesgirl.

She adds the government failed to trace her contacts but she asked them to go for a Covid-19 test. Some went, others did not.

“People need to know that hospitals are all full and they are only admitting critical patients, who get to the stage where they can’t breathe and their oxygen count goes below normal,” she said.

“I am asymptomatic, hence just applying dietary, hygiene and other measures to protect those around me,” Amadala said.

DAY IN THE LIFE

Asymptomatic patients require 20-minute exposure to sunshine every morning and early evening to boost Vitamin D levels, which improve the immune system. 

Amadala said, “I take a good general food supplement, especially Seven Seas cod liver oil and Omega 3. I have stocked Paracetamol, throat spray like Andolex and Vicks vaporub, in case of chest pain. 

“I have added extra fruits and vegetables to my diet, hydrating as often as possible.

“I have kept to my room, isolating from the rest of the family. I wear gloves and a mask to avoid contaminating others in the house. I have since managed to overcome the fear of the virus.”

He gets great emotional and spiritual support from his family, neighbours and friends.

The patients have also formed different WhatsApp groups, where they share their daily experiences.

Amadala said he has come up with a routine. “The first thing I do when I woke up is to clean my room and take the first glass of warm lime, ginger, honey and garlic. That is to keep the flu at bay,” he said. 

“I proceed to a free area in our plot to exercise and bask in the sun until 10am. I went back to the room for another glass of lime and ginger before lunch.”

He works out in his room and takes food supplements as directed by the doctor, takes a warm shower and rests in bed until 7pm.

“My word to the public is that they should religiously adhere to the guidelines set by the MOH to protect themselves and those around them because the virus is lethal,” Amadala said.

For Letto, it has been mentally engaging. He had time to think a lot in isolation since no one was allowed to get close to him.

He says he orders everything online.

“I had missed working at the office, though I am now working from home. I thank Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony, who brought me herbal sachets called 'Covid-19 care' that really improved my situation,” he said.

“I also thank the wife of Dagoreti South MP Simba Arati for bringing me Vitamin C from China.”

Edited by T Jalio