Covid-19: A Survivor’s Journey to Testing and Recovery

Freda Onaiza  

Across the globe, testing and treatment of Covid-19 patients have become difficult with the rising cases. There has been reports of limited testing kits and shortage of bed spaces in many health facilities where large cases had been recorded, such as United States of America, Italy and Spain. The American business magnate and philanthropist, Bill Gates, had earlier warned about the devastating havoc that Covid-19 would likely wreak in Africa judging from the weak healthcare systems that are available in most parts of Africa. In a multi-country report on Healthcare Systems in Africa, published by the World Health Organisation in 2012, 67% of respondents in West Africa expressed their dissatisfaction with the healthcare services which is beset by ill-equipped facilities, depleting medical personnel as a result of migration to economically-developed countries, lack of infrastructure such as power supply, bad attitudes of staff and unavailability of drugs.

In Nigeria, access to public healthcare facilities before Covid-19 had been tedious. Many spend long hours on queue and watch helplessly as newly arriving patients walk confidently into the consultation rooms just because they are personally linked to the healthcare workers.

At the moment, an average of 4,000 tests are conducted in Nigeria. With the establishment of 58 testing centres in different parts of Nigeria, it is still a few drops in the ocean for an estimated population of 200 million. Lagos, which is the most populous city in Nigeria with an estimated population of 17.5 million is battling testing backlog. As international observers have noted, many governments are rationing the use of testing kits.

Recently, a lawyer, Nyma-Akashat Zibiri, who is also a co-host on Your View, a daily talk show on Television Continental, recounted her experience and path to recovery from Covid-19. She was away from the show for almost two months, taking care of her husband and herself after testing positive to the virus.

‘I was contact traced on June 3 and I was asked to come to the IDH alongside my husband because he tested positive to Covid-19,’ ’ she began during her first screen appearance since her recovery.  ‘We went there with our children and that was a big mistake that I made. I was not allowed to drive in. I had to walk all the way with my children, 7 and 3 years old, into the facility. I thought they had a facility for the children. My trauma started when I saw my kids touching everything, mixing with people. I was unable to hold them down in that setting that was totally disorganised for me. I can’t blame the health workers. They stayed away from us. I didn’t have any symptom. I was traced and I needed to know my status.’

The strategy employed at the testing centre was strange to her. Contrary to what is reported in Western media where drive-in tests are now available, many still have to wait for long hours to get tested in Nigeria.

‘We needed to be up to 40 in number to get tested so I had to wait. They were done with the morning shift so I had to wait for the afternoon shift. After a while, I started to raise my voice. And one of the officials recognised my voice,’ she recounted.

Eventually, she got the needed attention and her samples alongside her children were taken for the tests. The results were supposed to be out in two or three days but that was not the case. It took nine days before the results came out.

‘My two children tested negative. But my husband and I tested positive. I just decided to stay away from work while we awaited the test results. Meanwhile, we had packed my husband’s things, thinking he would be isolated at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Yaba. They told us to go home since the viral level was low. Unknown to them, I had been treating malaria on my husband. He was very ill. He was so weak that he would crawl on his hands. I had a First Aid corner in the house and that was what I was using. We isolated the children and made sure we were wearing masks within the house,’ said the co-host.

Meanwhile, her husband’s symptoms were increasing with time. Nyma resorted to the alternative medicine to treat Covid-19 symptom per symptom.

‘My daily routine is lime, lemon, ginger and garlic. I do that every morning. I had to increase it. I added turmeric to it. I added carrots. My mother bought a bagful of herbs and I was cooking herbs every two days. I did steaming three times a day. I placed my children on Vitamin C,’ she said, thanking her neighbours who were assisting her to buy things from the market, leaving them at the doorstep for collection.

A doctor was calling from the hospital to follow up on their health. Fortunately for Nyma, her symptoms were minimal and recovered very quickly. But she was exhausted from caring for her husband.

‘My symptoms included fatigue. There was a night I watched my husband’s temperature fluctuate. While I was watching him, I also fell asleep. He was worried. Dr. Fadare was always calling us to find out how we were doing. When my husband was at his weakest point, the doctor told him,  ‘Try and go out of the house.’  My husband didn’t want to go out and he didn’t want to see people. But he needed to go out for the early morning sun. I lost my sense of smell and I got it back within a week. But he refused to go out,’ she said.

To treat the cold and nasal congestion, Nyma prepared herbal tea that she and her husband drank repeatedly. Despite her circumstance, she made some effort to continue her advocacy work on rape and other human rights issues.

‘I had a webinar during that period that had already been scheduled before my test result came out. I told them (the participants) that I had tested positive to Covid-19 and that’s why I had been away from the show. People would like to create stigma around it and that amazes me. In my house before Covid-19, I didn’t take visitors. You have to wash your hands and sanitize upon your arrival,’ she said while explaining how much precaution she had taken to ensure that she didn’t contract the virus. Sadly, she lost her dad who was deeply concerned about her welfare while she and her husband were battling Covid-19.

‘He couldn’t deal with it because he saw me at my weakest point,’ she said, and for a moment, was lost for words.

For the second testing to ascertain that she was free of Covid-19, it was another roller-coaster of struggle. On June 24, she returned for another test.

‘The crowd was crazy. The sitting capacity at the testing centre was not enough. We were to sit in twos. The chairs were not cleaned. The second day was worse. The numbers tripled. What is amazing is the number of people that called after I disclosed my health status on that webinar.  A few of them admitted that they had lost their sense of smell and were just asking what I was using to treat myself. After I lost my dad and I had recovered, some of my friends came to visit and some of them still argued that loss of smell had always been associated with cold,’  Nyma added, proving that many still have their doubts as to the reality of the deadly nature of Covid-19. As already explained by medical experts, the symptoms for Covid-19 vary from one person to another. While some may experience mild symptoms, others with underlying conditions may not survive after being infected.

‘I was never feverish. You could put an infra-red thermometer to check my temperature and I’d have the normal temperature. But after treating my husband, I had a constant fatigue and I was always dozing. But my husband has difficulty in breathing. So, we did steaming together and that helped him to sleep very well,’ she recalled.

Nyma’s experience confirms the truth that many carriers of the Covid-19 may be asymptomatic. This is why it is important for people to wear their masks in public places as they may be in contact with infected persons who are oblivious of their status.

With the lack of adequate facilities to accommodate all infected persons, it is very likely that many are seeking alternative medicine to treat Covid-19. The cost of herbs, bitter cola, ginger amongst others had increased.

‘Another thing I discovered was the increment in the cost of herbs. Lemon grass became very scarce. Who bought out all the herbs and kolanuts? Personally, I believe that we have probably surpassed the number that other countries had. Maybe our diet and lifestyle had worked in our favour,’ Nyma argued.

At the time of this report, the global cases for Covid-19 has risen to over 15 million cases and about 700,000 deaths. The journey to global recovery is a long one.

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