By Steve Otieno

Despite being a certified teacher of biology and chemistry at one of the prestigious schools in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, Evans Ogero still did not believe in COVID-19.

To the 30-year-old, the pandemic was all a sham, a hoax by the government to access more loans from developed nations and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

“I had always heard of this monster called Covid-19 but I never thought of it keenly. This was just a sham. And anyway, if it was true, then I believed it was a disease for the upper social class,” Mr Ogero said.

His denial, he recalled, was fueled by numerous reading materials he had accessed online, especially social media. One of the lies he consumed was that as long as one ate indigenous vegetables, enough starch and fruits, then COVID-19 had no chance on you. Again, he read that even if he contracted the disease, he could still use a concoction, a mixture of boiled ginger, garlic, lemon and at times laced with honey, to treat the disease. He was not scared at all.

The face mask, he admitted, that he only wore to be on the safe side of the law.

“The police were a menace, so I had to wear a mask whenever I spotted them. But once in my social circle, I would remove it. No one wore it. We knew Covid was just a political creation, and if it was there, then it was those living in Kileleshwa or Runda (Posh residential areas in Nairobi),” he said.

In addition, he had already bought a vitamin C supplement to increase his health prior to the pandemic, as such, he was certain that the disease would not get him.

“It was in April this year. I was teaching in class, but I could no longer stand, my joints were so weak, I was feeling so hot and could not take it anymore. I stopped teaching the lesson  I was having and asked the students to continue without me,” he said.

Though acutely aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 that had been announced and still being announced by the government, the seasoned teacher still refused to acknowledge that his case could be the new coronavirus.

In the evening, things were getting worse, he went to MediHeal Hospital in the Nairobi Parklands area, all he needed was to get malaria drugs, he said.

However, his medical insurance did not cover outpatient services at the hospital, so he moved to Nairobi Hospital. A series of tests later, the doctors could not trace any of the diseases they had tasted including malaria, tuberculosis or any infection. This is when one of the medics suggested that a protein test be done.

“I was told that if my protein levels were above 28, then I would be tested for Covid-19. I objected, however, my protein levels were above 28. I was tested for COVID-19, it came back positive,” he said.

He was shocked beyond measure. He could not believe the very disease that he joked about, had caught up with him. He went into isolation for ten good days taking the drugs administered to him at the hospital, and on the tenth day, when going for his re-testing, he was shocked further.

“I could not believe when the re-test came back positive again after isolating for ten days. Covid-19 is not a joke. Those days of isolation were the worst I have ever experienced. Painful joints, feeling chills and also very hot at the same time. It was terrible,” he said.

To all young people who do not believe in Covid-19, his message is simple.

First, he cautions anyone from using the concoctions to treat the virus saying the only way one can confirm the treatment is when the World Health Organisation will announce a breakthrough. Secondly, he wants every single person to take his/her health seriously at a personal level.

“Do not think that ignoring the government protocols and measures set to prevent Covid-19 will hurt the government. It is you, as an individual who will be hurt and suffer the wrath of the disease. Some people have died, some have been in ICU for so long and are not sure if they will make it out. Do not joke with Covid-19,” he concluded.

Claudia Angode, 27, currently working at the United Nations, as a special needs educator is another youth who did not believe in the pandemic.

She blamed social media for her woes. Especially Facebook and Twitter where she says content from ‘funny” characters would be uploaded every single hour and to make it worse, the content on social media always clashed with that on the mainstream media.

“This clashing information always left me confused. On one side, the mainstream media would tell us what the government was saying. But on social media, I would read texts showing that COVID-19 was a plan by the politicians to drive fear in us so that they could earn more clout,”

“Individually, I believed it was all about the government trying to make more money by acquiring loans,” she said.

Sadly, she lost a friend and then a relative to what the doctors said was COVID-19. Her flippant stance on the disease was shaken a bit. Still, something in her held her back from believing the pandemic was real.

Despite all these tell-tale signs that the pandemic was real, she had her own doubts. There were conspiracy theories doing rounds online- Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook- that Bill Gates, a guru in Information Technology, was now joining the medical field with the sole purpose of getting rid of all Africans and poor nations.

“I had also seen books being spread online. These books supposedly prophesied about Covid-19. As such, I had also believed that Covid-19 was a spiritual affair and that it pointed to the end of the world,” she said.

She was referring to the book written by Sylvia Browne and Lindsay Harrison: End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World, which was published in 2008.

This book caused a sensation that Kim Kardashian posted the book on her Twitter, an act that saw millions of people start a debate questioning the credibility of COVID-19.

The other book was “The Eyes of Darkness” written by Dean Koontz and published in 1981. Among the first people to tweet that book on Twitter was one identified as Nick Hihton who posted page 333 of the book. The page had details saying that a virus identified as Wuhan, the city in China where COVID-19 was first identified,  would be developed by Chinese scientists.

The tweet, posted on February 16, 2020, went viral and one day, received over four thousand retweets and thousands of comments and over 6,000 likes.

However, the chase was cut short for Ms Angode when the company demanded that every staff member should undergo the COVID-19 test in April this year.

“I tested positive for Covid-19.  I realised this “thing” was real. I panicked. I was super stressed. Fortunately, I had a great support system,” she said.

Two weeks later, she tested negative, but her perception of the disease has changed drastically.

“I never leave my house without a mask. I constantly sanitise. I keep the recommended social distance. Before the disease, I was doing these things half-heartedly,” she said.

Her advice to every single young person, as they are the biggest victims of social media, she explained, is short.

“Do not listen to social media at all. Do not take the advice there seriously at all. Covid-19 is real!,” she said before sharing the biggest lie she experienced before contracting Covid-19.

In the agricultural county of Trans-Nzoia, a busy centre, Moi’s Bridge continues to hum. Sadly, the youth do not believe in COVID-19, and for those who do, they do not take the disease that seriously.

The latter was the case for 24-year-old Valerie Makete in June. A sales lady by profession caught Covid-19 and for two weeks, her life was unimaginable.  She suspects she contracted the disease from her colleague who was the first to test positive for Covid-19 in the department that has six employees.

Though she tested positive, Ms Makete opted to self-treat herself at home. Her reason, she said, was that she feared going to hospital and getting more exposed to the disease that “took her through hell”.

“Go to isolation? Me, never! I treated myself with hot water, ginger and garlic. For two good weeks at home, I could not go to quarantine. That time was terrible; I had no sense of smell, no taste. I could not even smell my own perfume!” she said.

“We (the youth in Moi’s bridge) do not wear our masks. We only do it when we see the police. We all know that there is power in the concoction. Again, some people have never contracted the disease, so, why fear the disease now,” she added.

However, since her battle with the disease for slightly over two weeks, she cannot dare “joke with COVID-19’ she said.

“It was a very scary experience. Nowadays, I remind people to wear their masks. Even if I get a simple runny nose, I run to the hospital. There is COVID-19, and it is bad. Beware. People are dying,” she concluded.


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.

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