Corona Care: Interview with a Kenyan Medical Student.

In the first installment of Corona Care, we talk to a medical student and researcher. The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to sweep across the world leaving behind a devastating effect on people and economies. In Kenya we have a unique crisis, the government’s response to the Pandemic has seen very many doctors suffer from pay cuts and no salaries for a couple of months. Additionally, they do not have sufficient equipment to treat patients, thus putting themselves at risk.

We spoke to Micheni Mike M; a medical student and was part of the COVID Response Research Team. We asked him a few questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, the plight of doctor’s and what YOU can do this season to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

IBW: How serious is COVID-19 to the body & to our society in your opinion?

MMM: Wow! That is such a loaded question. I hope you’ve freed your morning! 😂 So just as an outlook, COVID is a multi-systemic disease, meaning that it affects different systems of your body; not only your lungs. So keeping that in mind, it is quite the serious disease because it ravages through the body; particularly affecting those who have lowered immunity either due to chronic infections or old age.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 is not a death sentence. We have tons of people who are infected but are asymptomatic, and thousands others who have recovered from the disease. There’s still research looking into this but we believe that this is based on the immune status of the individual as well as (possibly) a genetic factor. 

As to how serious COVID-19 is to the society, there have been and will be many negative implications with a few positive ones. On the negative, we are sure to feel the impact of the pandemic on the Kenyan economy for years. Additionally, the medical fraternity has lost quite a number of their personnel so this is also a great tragedy. 

On the flipside, the pandemic has brought out the importance of public health systems in terms of a country’s health because health really is the backbone from which the country’s growth stems. We can only hope that we learn from this and set adequate systems up. 

For anyone interested to learn more on this, Dr Madhukar Pai wrote a fantastic piece in April this year titled ‘Can We Reimagine Global Health in the Post-Pandemic World?’ It is a wonderful, in-depth read of what we can anticipate and hope for. (Article available here.)

IBW: We know that the Kenyan government has not done a good job of taking care of its doctors, in what ways can we citizens support the doctors?

MMM: Yes, that is true. A lot more could have been done by the Kenyan national government as well as county governments to safeguard the lives of the frontline health-workers. In fact, as we speak, starting from the 21st of December 2020, health-workers around the country shall be going on a nationwide strike.

Kenyan citizens can support doctors by making the doctors’ grievances known to their leaders; be it online or offline. These include the lack of adequate protective personal equipment, health insurance, and risk allowances. Being clear on these grievances is the best way to support health-workers and the only way to protect against the widespread misinformation.

IBW: What do you think is the mental toll on doctors and patients from COVID-19?

MMM: Seeing your patients die and having to break the news to the family is always difficult for health-workers and has also been so during this pandemic. In my experience, in fact, I think it’s been worse during this period because of the mysterious nature of the disease and that so little was known about it at the beginning.

To the same extent, people (both health-workers & patients) who get a positive test result were often thrown into confusion, uncertainty and anxiety. This often took the biggest toll on them.  

IBW: How are you taking care of your mental health as you deal with COVID-19 patients?

MMM: Finding appropriate, non-destructive coping mechanisms is the best way to take care of your mental health. Personally, plugging earphones in and playing my favourite music on loud does wonders for me. Spending time with friends (both medics and non-medics) talking about the week and life in general has also been very helpful during this time.

Speaking with the patients is also always inspiring. There is something about encouraging others that also inspires you, so I’ve found that to be valuable too!

IBW: What precautions would you advise Kenyans to take during this holiday season?

MMM: Oh no! I was dreading that question because it’s been such a dilemma of late, 😂.
On one hand, it would be prudent for Kenyans to avoid visiting their rural homes. They/We could potentially take the infection from the urban areas to our old, possibly ailing grandparents. 

On the other hand, however, for many families, this is the only time that grandparents get to spend time with their whole families; especially their grandchildren. Saying Kenyans should not visit them means that they (the grandparents) probably won’t see their loved ones until sometime during school holidays in April or so. I think that’s TERRIBLE, so it’s a difficult dilemma, you know?

With that in mind, I think it’s up to each family to make an independent decision on how long they will wait before visiting next. 

If you ask me though, watu wavae N-95, wabebe sanitizer, waende ushago, na wafanye physical distancing ya 1.5 meters wakifika. (People should wear the N-95 masks; carry and use sanitizer; they should go upcountry and practice physical distancing of 1.5 meters.) This will need a lot of discipline on everyone’s part but I believe we must find a way to live with it. 

(Don’t quote me on that though, hehe…)

IBW: Any parting shot?

MMM: Just one;

okay, more like two.

2020 may not have been the best year but let’s remember that happiness is an inside job. It must stem from within; for that is the only way we can guard our peace of mind. Nevertheless, let’s not be afraid to reach out to friends, family, psychiatrists and counsellors if we need help with our mental health, yeah? 

Finally, Kenyan frontline health-workers need your help. They need PPE’s and their other grievances met for them to serve Kenyans. Speak out! Make your voice heard! Our country’s health is on the line. 

Thank you, Merry Christmas, and in the words of Sauti Sol, “Stay safe”.

***

We could not have said it better ourselves! Micheni can be found on the socials as @mmmicheni where, in his own words, ”I frequently write bad puns, sometimes give good music recommendations and occasionally post interesting medical stuff.”

Thank you for reading this article, kindly share it and make your voice heard. Let us be responsible citizens and speak up for our frontline health-workers.

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