Eyamba Dafinone, a COVID-19 survivor in Nigeria, a property developer and a successful businesswoman, shares her experience.
The wife of Ede Dafinone, Chairman, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria Export Group and Trustee, Guild of Fine Artists of Nigeria, during an interview on Monday, April 20th ‘The Morning Show’ on Arise Television, a sister broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, shared her experience in isolation, treatment and her eventual cure. She said a total lockdown with practical strategies is the only way Nigeria can flatten the curve of the disease. The interview was monitored in Abuja.
What has your experience been, how did it happen and why did you take the steps that you took?
I traveled recently to England for a couple of weeks and while I was there, there was no talk about coronavirus then. During my stay I did the normal things, I went to restaurant, I went to process a visa at the American embassy, I went to a theater show because my friend’s daughter was the lighting designer and thereafter, a friend of mine died and I had to go for a wake-keep. While I was there somebody sneezed and I panicked and couple of days later, Boris Johnson started talking about the Coronavirus and it’s implications. I then realized that in these last few days I have been out and might have been exposed. So, what I then decided to do was talk to my husband and I said I’m not sure if I have been exposed or not and that I think is best that if I do come home that I go and self-isolate in a different compound because, his mother is over 80 and his siblings are asmathic and I just thought it was the best thing to do. He wasn’t sure about it and he said, have you got corona, and I said I don’t think so. I haven’t been tested but I just think is the prudent thing to do.
So, what then happened is that I made arrangement in a different compound, I had it set up and from the airport I went directly there. He did say that why don’t you stay in England and I said I just might be an NHS statistic, I would rather come home. But this, I feel was like more of tropical disease as against neurosurgical and would rather be at home where I felt they could deal with these sought of diseases. So, I came back to Lagos. When I got back to Lagos, we live in Apapa but I moved to Victoria island, I was there on my own. I arrived on Saturday on a Virgin Flight, March 21st. On the Monday which was my birthday, I asked to do self-isolation party, so I got a lot of cakes, presents, flowers, all kinds of things. And the very next day I started having pains. And I thought maybe I wasn’t used to the mattress, next day I had running tummy and people said, oh you ate too much cake because it was your birthday, that’s what happened. The next day I had temperature, they said but you complained that you had a mosquito bite and you saw a mosquito blood, so that is the reason. So every symptom that happened there was an excuse for it. People thought there was really nothing wrong with me. And then I started sweating and my friend said, this is menopause, you have reached that age. So every time I had something there was a reason for why I was having it. Then I found that I had a fever and it wasn’t going and I started shivering. The kind of sweats I had was like when you get up water will be dripping all over the floor and I’ll be like, this isn’t normal. Subsequently, I was exhausted and tired and I felt it was time to call a doctor because I didn’t understand. I wasn’t coughing, I wasn’t breathless but I felt this wasn’t normal.
When I called the doctor, they monitored me on the phone. They were looking at me, they asked if I had oximeter and said I should monitor my oxygen level, they also said I should use the blood pressure machine to monitor my vitals, these I did for about a couple of days but I only got worse. And in the process they felt that it was best that I got tested especially when they asked can you smell and I said I can’t smell, they said it’s time to get tested.
The testing process wasn’t easy, we had to call and call connections from commissioners to perms secs to everybody in Lagos State government before we finally got a phone call that they were coming to test me at home.
Two doctors came, they tested and I waited for my result, I didn’t get my result on time. And I called them that I wasn’t feeling well and they said do you want to come in and I said I don’t want to come into that place without my result when I don’t know if I am positive or negative. The next day I felt so bad, I called them and said result or no result please come and collect me I can’t wait anymore. And they said are you sure? I said yes I need to be with a doctor and I can’t go to a private clinic because I don’t know if I have it, so I will rather go where they have doctors so that they confirm what is wrong with me. So they brought an ambulance, fumigation van and when I was taken they fumigated the apartment where I was staying and we headed off to…my husband had come because the doctor has been worried and said he go check on me. So he was in the compound waiting, and then we went to Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Yaba.
When I did get there I was taken to a tent, a very huge tent, there were just two people in the room and it has space for about 16 people. I was told it was a holding tent for those who had not been confirmed. The next day they confirmed me and as I was leaving the lady opposite said are you going home, I said no they are taking me to the main ward. She said why because I am negative, I said really but I am not. I said but at night I had to call the doctor to give you oxygen, you were gasping, you couldn’t breath, please let them recheck you and I left her there and went to the main ward.
When they were taking me from the house, they did say we have already made private ward available, do you want to go there, I said no. I said I only care about the result I don’t care where I am being taken to, I need to have medical care. I was taken to a room for six people, it was four of us in there and it was good I was with people. Because there is a lot of love, a lot of support, shared stories as to what had happened to them.
What I think is important at this time is to try and point out that everybody’s symptom was totally different. The stay there was good, I had a bit of nausea because of the meds, there was care. Being in IDH was amazing because they had protocol, they have been there for 90 years, they know what they are doing, they are the guys in charge of infectious diseases and there is no other place to go to when you suspect you have this kind of thing. I just felt it is the correct place.
When I left indeed they decontaminate me, they used chlorine all over my body, I was a wet rag, they decontaminated my clothes, my laptop and I was dripping, confused and left. That’s why I think there was a problem because we were never told what will happen thereafter. It was like go home and that was it.
Do you think our healthcare system right now is overwhelmed. And how was your relationship with the doctors, nurses in terms of stigma, care etc?
At the hospital I found that because they are funded by WHO, USAID and CDC, that the services were impeccable. The beds were new, everything was new, the toilets, I mean they had standing air conditioners, ceiling fans. It was okay I mean there was nothing I wanted in a hospital that I didn’t get. The doctors and nurses were very good, to be honest they were all in cat man suits, I wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them tomorrow. They just came and tried to be as cheerful as they could and their job mainly was to give us our medication and check what symptoms or ailment we had, so that they will try and alleviate it. There wasn’t much interact apart from “are you alright?”
To be honest? Some other people did say they called some physicians, psychiatrists to let them know what the effects of the drugs will be but I didn’t have any of that, that was explained to me much later when I was about to leave. But we mixed up numbers so they couldn’t reach me. But in terms of care I must mention that this people know what they are doing. When they leave every day they get decontaminated, when you leave you get decontaminated, when you want to take anything from the premises it gets decontaminated.
On if the healthcare system is overwhelmed, it certainly is not overwhelmed at the moment because we haven’t done enough testing, we don’t have enough pressure from patients. But towards the later part of my stay when I went for my fourth test, I noticed rather than one patient coming in or many two patients, six patients were arriving at the same time. I was told that when I came and left, a patient came in and passed away but when tested it wasn’t COVID. So the point is that the poor person stayed at home for such a long time rather than come to the hospital, thinking they had COVID and the stigma and only to come, die like five minutes after being moved out of the ambulance before they got to the room and they didn’t have COVID.
On stigmatization, the healthcare workers are taking a risk. Most family members are scared for their lives, there was a lady who said she was treated like a leper by her family. She was coughing and everybody was like running away from her, nobody will touch her they said you must have coronavirus and she almost couldn’t get to the hospital because they were so nervous about it. The workers, the cleaners as long as they have protective gear, would come in and clean regularly. There was a time the shower stopped, the same day probably a plumber came and fixed it. If there was a problem it was fixed, the funding on that facility is excellent they had flat screens TV.
At the moment as we speak there is no pressure but if it escalates, it may escalates if certain things are undone we are going to have serious problems and we may not be able to cope.
I’m not sure I can talk about the various symptoms because my concern at this point in time is how we can get people tested, how we can get people not to be scared about the stigmatization and come out for testing.
What advise do you have for people who do not have the privilege to make a phone call and who are likely to just hide because they are handicapped, perplexed, they don’t even trust government, about seeking help?
Okay. What was interesting in my ward was that people were from Egbeda, Opic, they were mixed people in the ward and I asked how did you get here. And they felt they had symptoms, they drove to IDH and they got tested. The testing capacity hasn’t been fully utilized Nigerians should go and get tested. What I believe the NCDC should do is to layout all the addresses where testing can take place and layout all the phones that can be reached so that people know how to get tested.
I phoned the numbers that were online and there didn’t work. I did try that first but some other people should drive themselves and insist. Somebody said they used the national research center, the one besides Presbyterian Church, Yaba. They went online, filled in a form and three hours later they responded and they did a drive through testing. Testing is free.
Given how prevalence stigmatization is, do you have fears that the current number of cases reflect what the actual situation is? What’s your view on a lockdown and a possibility of extension again?
I will speak on stigmatization, we have a culture of secrecy in Nigeria. You ask somebody what’s wrong with you they don’t want to tell you, you ask someone when is your baby due, they don’t want to tell you. So you can imagine one thinking they have COVID-19 that it is a taboo, nobody must know. And so they stay at home, they don’t want anybody to know, some times they go to the doctor and do not even give travel history and expose the hospitals.
There was a case of a girl that came, she was only brought to Yaba because her grandmother had died. People are so scared of people talking about the fact that they have COVID-19. But what is COVID-19? Is a virus that is deadly but you catch it easily as you catch cold. You could just brush pass somebody and get it. Is not a sexually transmitted disease, it is not gonorrhoea, syphilis, so why do we have a stigma, why are you hiding at home?
What I would encourage is that most people are telling their pastors they are ill. The pastors, reverend fathers they told please persuade them to go to the correct place for testing. Because, if we don’t test what we are doing is potentially killing people in future. We must contain it. I don’t know if it’s based on ignorance. I mean I am so called elitist but the people I met there were from Egbeda, Opic and so many other places, more of them still there than anybody. Although at the center there was a little 10-year-old with her mother, with the nanny. They had a lot of foreigners and everything but more people given the amount of flights that came into Nigeria in February and March, given the fact that everybody I met in London are okay, they must be other people on my flight that caught it where they are I don’t know. Maybe they are better because it is now three and half weeks or four weeks, they might have infected somebody else. We need to contact trace and find out those that they must have infected.
What we need to do is have a databank of symptoms so that Nigeria will understand what the symptoms are. Mine were pains, diarrhea, fever, sweating, splitting headaches, weakness, stooling, delirium, vomiting. Others have no symptoms they just felt, “I was with my husband and we had to go test and they have it, some people is dizziness, watery stool, some had fever. Others no pain, no temperature, nothing, everybody is different.
So, I believe there should be a databank so that Nigerians will recognize what and say I think I have it. Those pains I am talking about is like three men punching you, leaving you and coming back and punching you again. But I convinced myself it was bad mattress because I didn’t want to believe I had COVID. Some people had itchy eyes, the ears they can’t hear again, some people are gasping. There was a lady she just woke up at night told her husband I can’t breath. Symptoms are different but if there is a databank of symptoms Nigerians will recognize it and then know who to talk.
What is important telling their love ones at home, why are you scared to test? This is just a cold virus that is deadly, why are you scared? Please go get help.
IDH Yaba has 100 percent success rate, nobody has died there. The person who came was already dying and didn’t even have COVID-19. With that success rate I would have thought it would give Nigerians confidence and know oh, what they are doing in Nigeria is working and if it’s working why would you not go and test and make sure we stop the exponential growth.
Our testing has been so little 7,000 or 8,000 have been tested with our population of 200 million, is 0.000035 percent that have been tested. What is that? It means our figures are underestimated, however, with testing it will help in finding out who has it.
Lockdown without testing is a meaningless lockdown. There is so many things that should be done during this lockdown. During this lockdown I would have thought we will look at the realities and see if a lockdown really works? Will lockdown really work if people are hungry, if people are starving? What are we going to do to ensure we convince the masses there is a need for lockdown? That interaction, that education, that carrying the masses along so that they understand the need for lockdown is important. We cannot do it top down, you have to do it bottom up. WHO has said 10 million could get infected in Africa, now we have 17 percent of the African population which means 1.7 million Nigerians could get infected. Now, what are we doing about that? Michael Yale says, Ebola is what our expectations didn’t happen if we change the way we behave then we will stop the problem. Now, how do we change the way we behave? I will give you an example, the way we even give out the food is aiding the virus spread. They come with a van everybody crowds, they come with the food everybody crowds. Even when some communities are telling me in Banana Island, Lekki that they are trying to do spacing what happens when they leave? They still go back and sit together in the same room, so nothing has been achieved.
So, we really need to look at it from a different perspective it is not a question of money, spending money in Nigeria, we have to look at it strategically and say okay, where are these people going to sleep? Then if we that can afford to help people start helping genuinely and show love for the fellow man and worry about where they are going to sleep then things might change.
Number one, if they have fixed accommodation or fix residence for those people for the six weeks we choose to do the lockdown, because if we do a lockdown for six weeks the exponential growth is arrested, the virus has left somebody’s system it has nowhere else to jump to. Because everybody is at home and the virus can only thrive when it finds somebody to jump to, explain that to the masses number one. Two, people are hungry and protesting, find a place where they will stay, there are empty hotels, there is empty office blocks, there is money buy mattresses, let’s think differently. It is not ventilators, ventilator is killing people abroad. You have heard of programmes where people say we are giving ventilators they are still dying. A young boy said I have been here for nine days everybody is dying. If you are treating something and they are dying it means you are not treating the thing properly. What people need is oxygen, they should buy concentrated oxygen tanks even if is backed with ventilators, put less strain on that ICU equipment. How many people have we gotten trained? Let’s do things decently. Are there empty apartments? Are we going to deal with estate agents people might laugh, it is a phenomenon and so we have to think outside the box. We have to find a Nigerian solution that works for us, solution that works for Africa. We know how to look after our people, we have to find places where they can be kept, there are a lot of entertainment function halls that are not being used at the moment, space the mattresses so that people moving can go there and deliver the food. There are loads of empty restaurants, all these things being given out, these guys are daily workers, at lunch time they eat their lunch go home and sleep or in the shop or masters’ houses. Because, they don’t have cookers, kerosene stove, so you are giving them yam, rice, they will sell it. Their approach is different they need cooked food. These Mama Casses, Sweet Sensations, Tantilizers, they have kitchens, they have staff take the food to them let them cook. It is lifted from them and then move to locations that are managed.
We all did youth service, we have sergeant majors, let them try and organize the boys in each of the places where they can live in the interim. But before that happens they all have group leaders, reach out to these group leaders and explain to them what you are trying to do. They say Nigerians are brilliant 419ers, open up a website and have people proffer ideas, I don’t have the solution I am just saying we need to brainstorm and think differently. We are the cause, the decision we make now will determine whether we will make it or break it. It is not spending billions up there and saying you are giving money.
It is a fact that we have to have lockdowns but the lockdowns can only happen if you convince the masses that they should be lockdowns. If we have lockdown for six weeks straight like China did, it will go.
These young boys that are protesting on the streets why don’t we take them and train them. Train them to do fumigation, cleaning, to pack and deliver lunches, they need jobs they will be appreciative, we have to show love, God is love. Love conquers all.
I got through at IDH because of love. I didn’t even realize the day was going because people were praying, people were calling. I felt blessed. We have to show brotherly love, we have to do it the African way. All these people must be housed during that period, they have to feel secured, protected and loved. They are scared, if they didn’t believe that coronavirus existed before now they certainly do after what happened a couple days. It is now time to sit down and speak to them.
Find, it is good what Lagos State is doing but it cannot do it alone. All the states have to do it at the same time if not you will fix your problem…it is now imported, you cannot do it in isolation. They have to be a national consensus amongst the governors that are doing what they are doing simultaneously, if not it is a mess. The President has to come in on this and say it has to be done at the same time. They have to talk to those young boys that normally do daily work and their work have stopped, they make N2,000, N1,200 and their transport home and now they are not making the money. Some of them don’t have BVN so we have to look at it holistically.
I come to another issue of the logistics and food problem, even in transporting food they are being waylaid on the road, they are being harassed on the road, police has to secured those foods. At the rate it’s going within 14 days there won’t be enough food to feed Lagos with about 18 million. Because people are just going to give up, so we have to look at everything holistically, bottom up not top down.
Most people in Banana Islands, GRAs, Lekkis, Victoria Island are on lockdown but the rest of Lagos is not on lockdown because they are hungry.
Get to Ikorodu I’m even told Ikorodu is too far, go to Ajah they are still selling furnitures and curtains on the road. If it is going to work they have to explain, they have market associations, talk to the various associations leaders, talk to those areas the police know them and explain to them what we are trying to do…people need love, they will tell you what their expectations are, they will cooperate, Nigerians don’t want to die.
Let’s forget about stigmatization, you will be killing people. If the numbers are given out and they work, please I will encourage their staff to call the numbers and say I have an Oga here who is sick because we have to arrest it. There has to be cooperation, there has to be unity, we have to do things as one. We have to love, we have to care, we have to save Nigeria. Let us show the world that Africa can do it on its own African way, we don’t have to follow their norms. IDH have decent people, they have their norms, I am happy and glad but it is important that everybody has this confidence. IDH has been there since, 90 years from now is 1930, that is when it was established. It is WHO funded, everything works. I am so disappointed that people will call and ask are the toilets working, what sort of a question is that? I’m disappointed that pharmacists will call and ask me what drugs did they give you. If you know somebody is sick, send them there don’t try and fix them. If I want to make a dress I will not go to a barber to make my dress. These are the specialists they have been trained, they were trained for Ebola. All their patients moved out.
I don’t feel any stigma we are all in good company. Prince Charles, the Queen’s son has it what kind of stigma is that, Boris Johnson has it what sort of stigma is that? The Canadian Prime Minister’s wife, Tom Hanks, it is a common virus but it can kill, it has to be taken seriously.
In spite of your observations as regards the lockdown, will you support a further extension? Some people are suggesting we lockdown for another month?
The thing I want to say about the lockdown, a lockdown without an effective strategy, everything working simultaneously is a wasted lockdown. I believe we need to plan, plan, plan, embracing these guys and finding where they will reside. Because if they are not safe for the period we want to lockdown it’s not going to work, we are just wasting our time because they are not going to listen to the lockdown. Is the lockdown necessary? Of course that is the only way. China did it, that is the only way we are going to stop the virus. If it is not done in Nigeria at the same time, forget it. We have to convince the masses, you must convince them why there should be a lockdown because they believe it is a V.I problem, it is a Banana Island problem.
However, by the time I was leaving IDH everyone coming in had not traveled, it was people that had not travelled that are getting it. If you go there no traveler that has got it, it is a new wave that has started. It is one person that can infect 2,000 people. It is one person at home that has infected two, three, four, five people, who have now infected two, three, four, five people.
I will give an example. In Michigan, few weeks ago I was thinking of sending my daughter there because she is in New York. I called my cousin and said, you don’t have any infection thank God. Maybe when she finishes she will come and stay with you. Yesterday (Sunday) I called her, she said aha! We have 17,000 cases and over 2,000 have died and 83 people died yesterday. In three weeks? That is how fast it grows. We are still at 500, 600 level because they haven’t been testing. If the explosion starts, we cannot take it.
The WHO said 10 million could get infected in Africa which means 1.7 million may have it? Now, how many people have the potentials and can die? Do we have facilities to look after them? Can we afford for that to happen in Nigeria? What are the governors doing? It is important that everybody now face facts.
I am now coming to the PPE gear that they are making. Some people are sawing the face mask in plastic and making holes for virus to come through. These things are meant to be heat sealed and they are getting people to sow them. They are now going to put the lives of the frontline workers at risk. We should be worried about their welfare, their insurance, they have got their families at home. Luckily they are kept in hotels free of charge but their welfare, enumeration, whatever is promised them should be paid. The plastic face sheets at the moment we have been asked to recycle. There are threats that very soon there will be no masks, no gloves, no equipment for them. We should worry about stocking up the drugs that they have been using that is working, stocking up equipment for the frontline health workers. Can we win as a nation? We sure will. But can we flatten the curve quickly, we hope if we use our natural African sense which we have. If it is a question of money the problem would have been solve. You can’t compare how much America has, England has and we have. But it’s not going to be money that will solve it, it’s going to be love, human care that will solve it. Yes, there is need for the lockdown because that is the only way it can be solved but if we do it independently, fumigation… all those boys carrying machetes, get them, employ them, train them as fumigators, train them on how to deliver food they will be glad. Explain to them why, explain to them that you will feed, house them this period, if we do it we will solve the problem in Nigeria.
Please I am pleading to those at home with their loved ones, I hope I have given you the confidence that there is nothing wrong. I was there for eight days before then I was in isolation for 12 days. Some people are just isolating upstairs and their husbands downstairs, people are finding ways to make it work. But if you know you have symptoms please, IDH (infectious disease hospital), Yaba, it is amazing, the facilities are great, there is nothing wrong with it. I was there, I was cured and I am grateful for all the efforts the Lagos State government has done but Lagos, you cannot do it alone, what you are doing is brilliant, talk to other governors.