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On Covid-19 frontline

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By Callisto Sekeleza:

CHIULIKA—I was afraid

During her seven-day continuous shift at the isolation centre, Mtunduwatha saw at least seven patients being discharged. On the other hand, she could not recall all the deaths she witnessed but said on some days, it could be two deaths and one on the other while other patients could just be ‘brought in dead’ before any effort to resuscitate them could be made.

“Work in this centre is stressful and oxygen cylinders are heavy to move too. Many patients need at least three cylinders in a day. You can imagine seeing a patient whom you thought had chances of surviving die because the oxygen was in short supply due to various challenges. Such deaths are quite annoying,” she said.

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Likewise, Nasimba said every patient is at high risk because with Covid-19, one cannot tell the outcome.

“Trust me there are some patients who died and we could cry because they looked better when coming in and we didn’t expect them to die,” he said.

Within the seven days, one patient who looked stable and could walk, just collapsed and died, with all resuscitation attempts in vain.

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Keeping in good health at the project guest house

At the UNC Project guest house where the teams are staying, they engage in soccer games and exercise in the morning and later watch digital satellite television to pass time.

Much as health care workers are trained to manage the rigours of a medical crisis, not all may be able to manage the mental health aftermath. Mtunduwatha agrees to suggestions by others in healthcare work that workers who have been to the treatment centre need psycho-social support.

“That’s ideal. When we are in quarantine we are tested and it’s just lucky that we all tested negative for the first sample. We are waiting for the second test. However, for those who test positive after work in the treatment centre, it may be necessary that they also undergo counselling,” she suggested.

Nasimba has found days in the quarantine partly ‘boring’.

“You can think of a day that all you are waiting for is to eat and sleep. We try to make it fun. When I wake up in the morning I exercise by running and playing football,” he said.

For the 14 days in quarantine, he has been normally waking up at 7 a.m. and exercise up to 9 a.m. then he takes breakfast. Then, he either watches movie or writes reports up to lunch hour.

After lunch, he sometimes takes a siesta but after that, they usually chat up to evening. Upon having their dinner, they normally watch movies. Nasimba goes to bed at 11 p.m.

“UNC Project guest house keeper Joyce Chiulika said she received, with disbelief, communication from management that she would be receiving quarantine guests from the Covid-19 isolation centre.

“First time for something deemed risky is always difficult. I was very upset and disappointed but now I am used and fulfil all my duties. I was afraid,” she said.

Joyce’s fears were further exacerbated when some frontliners in a particular team were found Covid-19 positive.

“At the moment I am now used and make sure that I adhere to all preventive measures as guest house keeper. I no longer have the fear just like the rest of the Project staff.

When each team comes in, I go into the rooms with their team leader and explain the details about the facilities that we have at the guest house. During and after that, I observe the necessary preventive measure because these people are also supposed to undergo Covid-19 tests because of their exposure risk,” she said.

Initially, it was hard to enforce the regulations, especially on visitors as nobody from outside is allowed anyhow.

“Every guest house staff within the premises is not allowed to have unnecessary interaction with the front liners. Necessary physical distancing is emphasized. Even relatives of the quarantined staff are supposed to keep two metres from the gate and are not allowed in,” she said.

All the household cleaning items, including body health care products like soap are provided by UNC Project. Food is provided by the KCH administration

Managing separation from friends and relatives

Spending 21 days outside her home is another thing Chiulika has grappled with. She heads a household of four members whom she has missed all these days.

“It’s annoying to be in the same places all these days. I speak to my family members and I tell them that I have missed them. However, I know some things have stalled while I have been out since not all roles can be delegated to them,” Chiulika said.

She cherished the visit the team has had during their quarantine from My Pride My Angel, an organisation which is supporting healthcare workers in fight against the pandemic, who came and cheered them up.

For Nasimba who lives with his wife, kid and house help, it was also hard living out on duty for 21 days while his house is just within Area 33 (KCH staff housing), a stone’s throw away from the UNC Project guest house.

“It feels bad. I wish my quarantine was away because from here I can actually see my house but I have to be part of the team and observe the protocols,” he said.

After their quarantine Mtunduwatha, Nasimba and rest of the team would be spending seven days at their home before they report back for duties in their usual departments.

Message to Malawians

It has been quite an experience for the team to work in the Covid-19 treatment centre whereby one has to be alert managing patients in distress.

“We have seen the reality. Covid-19 is real and is very deadly. People are dying and people out there should take precautions. ‘Stay at home’, ’observe social distancing’ and ‘mask up’ messages should be everywhere. The virus is still being studied so people just have to take care, “Mtunduwatha said.

Nasimba, who just like several others, doubted Covid-19 associated stories during its initial manifestation in Malawi, said Covid-19 is real and people should take heed of all messages.

“People who would probably have lived longer if there was no Covid-19, are dying. Stay away from public places and only move if you have no choice, wear mask and do frequent handwashing,” he said.

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