My friend tested positive for Covid-19, what next for me? A Kenyan wake-up call

Do you know somebody who has tested positive? Now I do.

A Kenyan waits to be tested for Covid-19 at a health facility (Photo: Al Jazeera)

I recently had the privilege of walking, albeit virtually, with a friend as they battled the novel Covid-19 disease and I must say it has been a life-changing experience.

I've been in conversations where I heard people dismiss this disease as a hoax by the government to get donor funding, an infection affecting only the rich, a not-so-serious sickness, exactly like a bout of flu and you can just shake it off in a matter of days.

So when my friend complained of "homa homa" as I complained of tonsillitis we both thought we were the unfortunate victims of the Kenyan flu-season.

I saw my doctor and got an antibiotic, my friend opted to stick to home remedies and we casually bantered "omba tu si Corona (let's hope it's not Coronavirus)".

After a week of not speaking I decided to reach out because we had planned to meet up, my friend informed me that they had just buried their cousin, he had died of Covid-19.

More to that, my friend had been living with the deceased in the last days of his life and had been the one who rushed him to hospital on the day he died.

The Covid-19 positive diagnosis

The family buried their kin in a 10-minute service and went into isolation. I remember watching the video clips and texting back, "No family should have to go through this." It was heart-wrenching.

With events progressing in such a super-sonic speed, I was deeply concerned about my friend's mental state more than the positive diagnosis. Had they grieved at all?

Two out of six family members who had been in close contact with the deceased tested positive - my friend being one of the two. They were both placed in home-based care.

"Are you taking time to process everything that is going on? Are you okay? How are you feeling today? Are you taking any medication? How did your test go today? Have you gotten your results yet? How is isolation going? Are you getting the supplies you need? What's home-based care like?" were some of the questions I asked in the course of the weeks that followed.

The Neighbours

My friend has since recovered from Covid-19 but not before experiencing the brutal stigma that comes with a positive diagnosis.

"We went for the test today...the neighbours called the police and reported that we are roaming outside yet we are Covid-positive. We've had to explain that we were going for the test, the OCS had even sent some officers but we are okay," my friend modestly narrated during one of our conversations.

And such is the story of many other recovered Coronavirus infectees in the country. Being treated with aversion and suspicion by people who once called them 'good neighbour'.

Kenyan workers who report back to work and colleagues do not want to go near them, people who have had to relocate because neighbours kept looking at them funny, individuals who are afraid to get the medical help they need because people will shun them. Some dying at home because they didn't want to be told they had Covid-19.

During this week's #AskTheDG Twitter chat by Ministry of Health Director General Patrick Amoth, a worried citizen anonymously asked: "I have a friend who was in isolation and has since been discharged...I and all our friends are afraid to go see him and I know this is not right. After isolation is someone completely cured or can they still infect others?"

Kenyans, let's quit being ignorant

Dr Amoth graciously responded explaining that a person is discharged once medics are satisfied that they cannot shed the virus to others.

Remember a time when we were cautioned not to use spoons, plates, beddings, sit with, touch, go close to, visit in hospital anyone who had tested positive for HIV/AIDS.

We have since shed off a lot of that ignorance and have begun treating people living with HIV/AIDS with the dignity they deserve.

Stigma comes from a place of ignorance and misinformation. To a large extent, it also comes from a "superiority complex" where we are deceived to believe that we are better than the one infected/recovered.

While there is very little that can be done to change a misguided perception, getting the right information would be a good place to begin.

The fact that a neighbour, a colleague, a family member or a friend has tested positive for Coronavirus does not mean that they are reckless or out to infect you. You could have easily been the one infected. And who is to say you are not the one who infected them?

No one wants to get infected and no one wants to spread this disease, we all want to wake up from the nightmare that is Covid-19.

Someone you know has tested positive for Covid-19, what next? Be kind.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the company.

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