Emmanuel Asika, an IT professional spent 10 days at the Isolation Centre in the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Yaba, Lagos.
In this interview Tuesday April 22nd with Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily monitored in Abuja, he spoke about his experience at the treatment center, the sacrifices of the health workers, why it’s dangerous for people to self-medicate and why all hands must be on deck to halt the spread of novel coronavirus before it gets out of hand. He also spoke on why all 16 of them who were in the same ward at IDH have chosen to become advocates against the disease.
So how did it all happen?
At the initial stage I had what I considered to be malaria symptoms because I had a bit of fever, headaches. Those were the first two telling signs. Because I really don’t like to self medicate, I went and presented myself to the hospital immediately. At this time I had body aches, malaria I also had diarrhea so I was losing fluid and I had lost appetite, I wasn’t eating. So they decided to put me on drip to rehydrate me and the to treat these symptoms that I had presented. So as time proceeded they realize that the fever wasn’t abetting and I still had diarrhea. And I think this is an important thing I need to pass across I mean they are like regular symptoms like upper respiratory symptoms, coughs and all of that. People don’t realize that diarrhea sometimes is a small percentage but can also be part of the symptoms of COVID-19.
Now, my doctor was very proactive, he was reading and he said World Health Organisation (WHO) has just added diarrhea as part of the symptoms for COVID-19 and he suggested that we consider a COVID-19 test. Because I wasn’t expecting to be COVID-19 positive, I rebuffed that whilst they ran other tests. These tests were okay pretty much but I still had fever and diarrhea so we decided to do the test after calling the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). We did it and when the result was out I was declared to be positive for COVID-19.
How did you think this happen for you?
I think this is pretty much what it was right, I mean it happen suddenly I did some interacting in Lagos. I did have a travel history but we reviewed it and it was more than three weeks or maybe a month and that was ruled out. And so it is really very easy to pass the virus to the next person. This is also one of the messages that we are pushing very strongly. People do not realize how very easy it is to contract the virus and that is why social distancing is advised. So we advised that people take it very seriously.
You say your travel history was over a month ago which means you must have been shocked when it was positive?
Exactly. I also had taken upon myself to take very seriously you know the protocols, sanitizing of hands, some form of social distancing. Where I work we had even shut down two weeks prior, I think second week of March. So we were really following all the protocols and I didn’t expect obviously to be COVID-19 positive. I was shell shocked to put it rather lightly. You know some people feel symptoms and suspect that maybe they have COVID-19, this wasn’t even part of my thought.
In your communication with your doctors or the NCDC did they say it was either from your travel history or you might have contracted it through something or being back home?
Like I said, we have had conversations about this and just to be safe, to ensure every single person I had come in contact with were also followed by the NCDC. So from the hospital and I must say that the hospital was very proactive, immediately they suspected that it might be COVID-19 they immediately began the safety protocols, no one was attending to me without the face mask, without gloves, without some form of PPE. So they were very proactive in that regard and they also have gone through the process for everyone in my work place as well. For those who had symptoms everyone has tested and also for everyone in my house. So the contact tracing was very aggressive so that we try to block every loophole. Also, I have had a very low transmission rate, probably because I presented myself immediately at the hospital, I was isolated at some point because I was put in a place where the doctors attended to me. So, I think the health workers in Nigeria have been very well exemplary.
In your opinion, how easy was it to draw up the list of contacts for NCDC to follow up?
It wasn’t easy but trust me it was very detailed. Even after I was discharged and I came back home, we still were going through the list again. I mean the follow up of Lagos is amazing. I have had doctors call me and say okay let’s review the list, let’s go in detail. Obviously you know not everyone can be tested except your present symptoms, so we sent thermometers to people so you know they are checking their temperatures, the follow up is morning and evening for 18 days. I just got information from a doctor that one of the people I had contact with was followed up for 18 days and there is still no symptoms. So the feedback has been very very good. So it’s been very detailed the follow up that we did with NCDC.
There are a number of people not giving their travel history, does that give you cause for concern?
Yes it does obviously because I said it the article that we did recently that this has the potential to go out of hand if we don’t take it seriously and being able to stem the tide of the disease. I think it’s sad that some people are not divulging their travel history, I don’t know whether it is stigma or whether fear. And these are some of the issues we are also trying to address and hopefully we can do that in a little while. Secondly, I think it is also important to note that the incidents of the disease coming from outside the country has reduced. I think right now we are getting to hook up to 70 to 80 percent community transmission. So the danger really because the borders have been closed is really not for cases coming outside the country but indeed the transmission rate that is going on. Then obviously, there is also the stigma and the fear that people have and the fact that people are not usually excited when they talk of going into isolation center in Yaba. So these are some of the key points we try to let the people know that it can be easy to contract, to transmit the virus and that the isolation center especially for me was not hell like I thought.
Different people exhibit different symptoms, in your case your had malaria and then diarrhea and that was how they got to check. What other symptoms did you experience, did you for instance experience shortness of breath?
In my case I was quite lucky. I didn’t have shortness of breath I didn’t even cough to be honest. My symptoms were fever, diarrhea and the doctors said I had Gastroenteritis, and so it was centered around my stomach, I was not eating, I was losing fluid and I had temperature. The temperature resolved very quickly once my case was being managed at the isolation center. But the diarrhea and vomiting lasted for quite a while. So I was throwing up, I was stooling.
So you had no respiratory symptoms at all?
Not at all. No respiratory symptoms.
Reading through your accounts in Health Watch Nigeria, we saw where you said you went for a meeting immediately you were discharged in your estate and you broke the ice and told them you just recovered from COVID-19. How did that play out, did they scamper for safety?
Just to shed some light, it was not just a social gathering, we were trying to tackle the estate’s security concerns and so we had to call an emergency meeting to resolve that.
Yes, a lot of people were suspecting because ambulances had come to test the people in my house. So I just had to break the ice and say look there is no need to suspect, I was the one who had COVID-19, I have recovered, I had three negatives. I tried to educate them as much as possible, I didn’t see any stigma, people pretty much came to me and say congratulations we are really really excited that you made it. You know is a communal setting so almost every other person knows other person to some degree, so they were very happy for me. More importantly as we say of stigma, we are the ones who should be afraid of other people, so I try to maintain distance from the other person because I know my status, I have been tested multiple times and I have come back with negative result three time. If anything, I am the one scared of people giving me the infection again so I possibly could get infected. And then after I put out the story through the Nigerian Health Watch, it’s been amazing feedback from people, lots of support but more importantly people are beginning to see that this disease is real. It has hit home, it’s someone who they know and so people are taking it more seriously.
There has been this conversation as to whether or not the authorities should publish the areas, I know Lagos is doing something similar, publish the areas these cases are such that people can indeed know that is closer to them that they think. Do you think is a good idea?
I have seen it in Lagos. I will just tell you briefly about what happened in my estate. You know people were just going about their normal activities, nobody was really saying that this thing was close. But when they heard that someone in the estate had gotten the disease, I can tell you for free that people began to sit up. Some people use to go socialize even though I have never been to where they socialize in the estate but when they realize that oh my God someone in the estate had got it, people began to stop socializing and spend more time indoors. So, I think the blueprint for Lagos…
It seems like you form a bond during the period of 10 days with other patients because when you talk you said “we have decided…”?
So we christened our group the Lagos COVID-19 2020. A lot of us are also coming out in public so I’m sure you must have seen Hon. Bukky Olopade who has also been on Channels and Seun Osowobi, we are collectively saying let’s collectively do this, we can make a difference and so we are out there spreading as much as we can. I have also spoken to the doctors, every person in my ward, we were about 16 at first and eventually we were split into wards, every single person has recovered 100 percent. If you ask me and the doctors do confirm this, the camaraderie that we had, the fact that everyone was responsible for any other person, that strong bond that you mentioned was key to our recovery. And remember we also did a video where we were thanking the health workers for the good job they are doing, that we can never overemphasize. But yes the camaraderie was there and we still have WhatsApp group till today, where we communicate and check up on one another.
While at IDH, were there symptoms others had that were different from yours?
We had classic symptoms alright. We had people who had respiratory issues, people had shortness of breath, a lot of people had diarrhea that also was some of the side effects for some people after they began taking the medication. People had temperature also some people were seriously depressed so we had to rally round and try and help people and that was one of the reasons we kept talking and having those conversations.
So the regular symptoms of COVID-19 were evident in some people, I was peculiar, some people were also asymptomatic just to also mention. But we did have people who had very serious case. In my ward, we didn’t have anyone who went on a ventilator but I do know there were people in the facility who were on ventilators. So we had some mild to semi-serous to very serious issues. But in terms of apprehension, anxiety, everyone at some point felt that. You wake up everyday and you are hoping the situation wouldn’t deteriorate. We had people who had mild symptoms then got serious and eventually they were better.
So how did the treatment go for you?
Like I said in the article, treatment were personalized by the doctors. We had our vitals taken on a daily basis, two times at the very least. Once you have underlying illnesses they also tried to cater to that and then we had medication to help reduce the virile load so that your immunity itself could kick in and fight the disease. So pretty much like it’s done all over the world, you manage the symptoms, you manage the headaches for some people, you manage the fever, for those who had diarrhea and vomiting. Like in my case the vomiting also persisted for almost seven to eight days out of the entire 10 days. Interestingly even after I tested negative I still had some symptoms that I had to treat.
So they treated those symptoms and very importantly try to address the virile load so that your immune system could kick in. Most importantly is that after some people tested negative they still need a period to recuperate and for their bodies to get adjusted to life without the virus. So that did exhibited itself differently from different people.
We have talked about the unsung heroes of this battle but maybe not enough. I want you to work us through the medical workers, the work they had to do, the sacrifice they have to make. If you could just give us a picture so that people can understand how this fight is at the frontline?
So we live in Nigeria and things are clearly far from ideal. You know health workers in the country in general are probably not paid as much as they ought to be paid. In some cases, in most cases salaries are even the issue. We have men and women who put themselves on the line to treat people who have the deadly virus. Some of them have lost their lives. So every day they go to work they know they are in a life or dead situation. So they come in and they are still able to do the job. Those things are not ideal some of them can’t even see their families like I mentioned in the article. I mentioned that some of them are now living in an accommodation close to the hospital so that they can stay away from their families and not transfer the risk to their families. And in all of this they still maintain their professionalism, a beautiful spirit, they didn’t make us feel like we were burdening them. Obviously you know that people really want to know what was happening to them, peoples bodies were changing so they were always constantly asking questions, sometimes repeating the questions over and over again and never once did any of them lose their cool, they always responded very very calmly and professionally. And they went out of their way to try and make us comfortable. For me, I even have the numbers of some of the doctors and nurses where I call them on a regular basis we are constantly conferring sometimes even after their working hours.
So these guys are super heroes trust me, we look for every opportunity to express this, that’s what gave birth to the video that went virale, and it’s amazing how they contribute to this. We will be on the frontline and the governor will probably get kudos for the job but these guys are behind the scene sacrificing every single second to ensure that some of us come out there alive.
How vulnerable do you think the health workers are and what do you think government should do to ensure they are well taken care of? And how is life after COVID-19 for you, are you back to work?
Vulnerable in terms of the work they do they are quite vulnerable but in terms of hazard allowances, insurance and all of that, I do know that in Lagos the governor has said he will look into this and it will definitely be implemented, I trust that he will do that. I think that all the states and indeed the country should follow suit and ensure that these people are well taken care of.
Life after COVID-19, pretty much what I am focusing on now is to ensure the message gets out there. We see the escalating number every day, we know that we are in no position to contain an outbreak in terms of infrastructure. If we have 10,000 or 15,000 cases this country will literally shut down so we need to take the lockdown very seriously. And I say people should not self medicate if you have symptoms please call NCDC, the isolation center is better than you think and you will get better if you are treated directly by professionals.
I am transiting back to work but I am trying to make it a face transition. Hopefully I should be back to speed 100 percent by next week.