By Thomas Bwire and Jack Vincent
An ambulance came to their doorstep in Kibera slums and picked up Agostina Mbwaya and her husband a few days after they tested positive for Covid-19.
“I still hear the sound of the ambulance sirens in my ears,the sights of curious neighbours coming out to witness as we were being picked by an ambulance and taken to two different quarantine facilities,” says Mbwaya.
The 35 year old mother of two says, this can only be compared to a death wish.
“Word of our positive test results went round fast like a bushfire, it was our own neighbours who were spreading the rumors..”
More than a year since those positive test results a sit down with, Mbwaya opens wounds and the hurt that still sits her heart.
“I felt sad deep down in my heart, I never wished to be picked up by an ambulance at my doorstep.” says Mbwaya.
14 days of quarantine finally lapsed and they both came back home with negative results.
Upon their return, the reception by their neighbours changed completely. Nobody wanted to associate themselves with them.
Their 5 year old daughter lost friends, her name had now changed to; ‘Watu wa Corona’ ‘people who have Covid-19’.
The stigma was too much to bear. “Neighbours stopped paying us a visit and they warned their children not to play with our daughter.
The message was clearly sent that we had become like outcasts here.
I didn’t understand why people well known to us could turn their backs on us. We got healed from Covid-19 and came back to continue living our normal lives,” adds Mbwaya.
“The misinformation that once got Covid-19 it was like writing your death wish. Community believed you don’t come back alive once picked by an ambulance.” says Mbwaya.
She later came to know that neighbours were not well informed about Covid-19.
The stigma forced them to shift to another village in Kibera where they were not known, to avoid being stigmatized day in and day out.
Since the first case of Covid-19 was declared in Kenya in mid March of 2020, family units have been forced to adapt to new lifestyles.
Solid relationships ruined, mistrust creeping in among well known family units that were once the talk of the village due to their unity.
The pressure has brought in some form of mistrust among couples,and forced some to separate from each other.
Across the borders in Africa, Nigeria is not spared either.
Godiya Bitrus, a 30-year old resident of Goni Kachallari on the outskirts of Maiduguri recovered from COVID-19 and was discharged from an Isolation Centre.
She had to relocate to her sister’s house in Bulumkutu, far away from home, to avoid the ‘hatred’ and stigmatization meted to her for being ‘a potential carrier’ of the disease, according to misinformed neighbours and acquaintances.
In a similar vein, Mohammed Ibrahim, a 29-year old resident of Bulabulin Anda, a suburban area of Maiduguri, lamented how close friends deserted him when he returned from the Isolation Centre fully recovered.
According to UNICEF, knowing the facts is key to being properly prepared and protecting oneself and loved ones.
Sadly, there’s a lot of information out there that is incorrect.
Misinformation during a health crisis leaves people unprotected and vulnerable to the disease and spreads fear and stigmatization
Advanced search operators for example revealed how Facebook was warning users before sharing Covid-19 links.
In an article by Matt Southern published on 12th August 2020. The sentiments shared were partly as below:
“Facebook will also direct users to its COVID-19 information center that contains credible information from global health authorities.”
In an announcement, the company states:
“We want to make sure people have the context they need to make informed decisions about what to share on Facebook, especially when it comes to COVID-19 content.
When Covid-19 came knocking doors in Kenya, this was a new disease to everyone. Majority of Kenyans ended up being admitted to hospitals.
Around the month of May 2020, most facilities were full to capacity. The government became overwhelmed with few bed capacity to accommodate more numbers of Kenyans turning positive with Covid-19 results.
In a telephone interview with Dr Jeremy Gitau , Founder and CEO Daktari Msafiri LTD Initiative, explained why he embraced home based care approach for Covid-19 patients.
This initiative involves conducting home based care for Covid-19 related persons.
This is done through phone calls to check on the status of the patient. Family members are all involved in the safety measures they need to undertake.
“We advise zero interactions for about 7 to 14 days with persons whose test comes out positive.
He says that the families need to support spouses who turn out with positive Covid-19 results.
’The best way families can handle misinformation on Covid-19 is to engage a clinician to disclose the positive results to close family members.
“Positive tests conducted can be shared as evidence too to eliminate stigma and mistrust by family members’ ‘. adds Dr. Gitau.
In order to address issues of misinformation relating to Covid-19 Dr GItau advocates for different approaches in order to reach out the masses out there.
”At a community level we need to use tools such as radio that can spread the word with right key messages.
Another good approach would be to target Nyumba Kumi Elders who can also be used to spread the right information relating to Covid-19.
They are well known in the community and this approach can instill some level of confidence and understanding.” adds Dr GItau.
Daktari Msafiri Initiative has so far reached out to 2000 Covid-19 patients to date with their home-based care approach.
Dr Jeremy Gitau still advocates for communities to enhance hygiene basics of handwashing with soap and water, and the wearing of masks among other remedies to keep Covid-19 at bay.
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site. https://africaresiliencenetwork.com/