By Paidamoyo Chipunza
The number of people recovering from coronavirus (Covid-19) in Zimbabwe continues to increase, with latest statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care indicating that as at May 17, 2020, 17 people had fully recovered from the disease. Although Zimbabwe lost four people to the virus, the country is still ranked among the least affected in Africa with 46 infected people still suffering from the disease. Our Senior Health Reporter Paidamoyo Chipunza (PC) spoke to one of the 17 people who recovered. This person, who shall be identified as Case 1 (C1) was the first person to be confirmed of having Covid-19 in Zimbabwe
PC: You were the first person to be confirmed as having Covid-19 in the country and the public was told that the first case was imported. Tell us more about your history of travel and possibly where you think you could have picked this infection.
C1: I had travelled to boost Tourism to Zimbabwe as part of a marketing and sales drive on behalf of my work, the private sector and Tourism Authority to the UK in early March. It was a great event and I met many interested agents and guests. I believe this is where I got the virus. At the time of travel, there were no restrictions on travel. Had we known what would happen I would not have travelled.
PC: Did it ever occur to you that you could have picked the infection either during your stay outside the country or as you travelled back into the country and how did it feel to live or travel under such exposure knowing that cases had begun to pick outside Africa?
C1: While in the UK the first few cases were picked up, but only a handful. We started to be aware that the situation was turning albeit slowly. We took extra precautions of course and this was where I was told at my workplace to self-isolate upon return. Thank goodness they were strict. This meant no further infections were possible.
PC: Back in Zimbabwe, at what stage did you decide to get tested for Covid-19 and who made the decision?
C1: After being home for two days in self-isolation, I felt weak and flu like symptoms. Originally I thought it was just jet lag and tiredness from a week of business travel. But after 48 hours, I spoke to a general practitioner and as cases had increased (elsewhere) he advised me to speak with the Rapid Response Team (RRT) leader in Victoria Falls and they came and did the test.
PC: How did you feel when you got to know that you were positive for Covid-19?
C1: It was a shock at first and my head was spinning. Had I infected others on the trip or had they infected me and who else was at risk? The doctor calmed me down and we were very thorough in tracing others. I am glad to report that others were all negative. No one catches coronavirus deliberately, but we owe it to trace all others as a precaution to keep them safe. The RRT and the doctors were all very professional and made me feel safe, even though we were not as prepared as we are now in Victoria Falls.
PC: So far, you are the only case who has not transmitted the virus to a known contact. Does this mean you never got into contact with anyone before you tested positive, maybe your GP, your family or anyone from your community?
C1: I was aware of the need to self-isolate. Therefore, even when travelling home I kept socially distanced. I wiped down everything I touched, I didn’t shake hands with colleagues at the airport. I made sure I kept my hands clean. And hygiene was key. I kept self-isolated.
PC: Could there be any precautionary measures that you took upon your return as an individual to protect those you ordinarily interact with?
Even when returning from the UK where I assume I had it, I was not coughing or sneezing. So therefore, even though it was within me, I was prudent enough in not touching my face, nose and not to cough or sneeze anywhere. Then once at home and isolated, it was contained. Big thanks to my work for advising me on precautions — nowadays we can get advice from lots of places, back then as citizens we were somewhat immature in understanding how to prevent the spread.
PC: Tell us your experience under self-isolation?
C1: It was hard to self-isolate at first, but I knew it was my duty. At that time, there was no lockdown so life outside of my property was still happening. Friends gatherings, social, sports and so forth, I was unable to partake. This was even before I tested positive. I am grateful I didn’t attend as now we can prove that isolation worked as no other cases were reported. The mental part is hardest not being able to leave a property.
Health workers were always on hand via phone or WhatsApp to assist if my symptoms took a dive for the worse. Luckily, I had mild symptoms. The worst was difficulty breathing, but I managed that with warm drinks to help and when I had body aches, paracetamol helped.
Remember these are not cures and the virus affects people differently. Especially obese, elderly and those with underlying health issues. I was fortunate I was in good health, but it’s not about me being okay, it’s about me passing it on to a friend and he also passes it to someone.
Health workers would check on me via phone and then proceed with follow up tests to prove I was cleared and not contagious.
Throughout the ordeal, they were and continue to be professional and caring.
PC: What lessons did you draw from your experiences, that you might want to share with other patients currently under isolation and probably the general public?
C1: If you have it, you need to protect those around you — self isolate.
Even if you don’t think you have it, it’s best to take precautions. Wearing of masks helps in public. Try not to shake hands and social distance when out. The person in the queue in front of you might seem healthy but they could pass it to you, and you could further pass it to an elderly loved one who will then suffer. Rather be safe than sorry but don’t live life in fear, just be cautious.
PC: In terms of the country’s national response, which areas do you think should get thumbs up and which ones need further strengthening?
C1: We have a Government that is responsible and has its people at heart. I am happy our Government started following WHO regulations before the outbreak of the virus in Zimbabwe.