By Medina Salihu
The medical personnel actively managing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) do not have an immunity to the virus that exempts them from contracting it. They face equal risk as every citizen. Though they constantly take all the precautionary measures, some still contract the virus and go through the process of treatment that all infected patients do.
Dr. Josephine Okechukwu, the Director of Public Health, Health and Human Services Secretariat, Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), contracted COVID-19 on the 3rd of December 2020. As a survivor, she continues to share her story and sound the warning across the state, for the adherence of all non-pharmaceutical preventive measures to curtail the spread of the virus.
As a director in the FCTA, Dr Okechukwu said, “I wasn’t given special treatment as a healthcare worker at the treatment centre, I received the same service as other patients. The only advantage I had, was fast-tracking my test results, the average person may not have that access.”
Since the advent of COVID-19, the staff of the public health department has been committed to doing routine tests monthly to ascertain if any member has been infected. When anyone tests positive, they undergo treatment and are back to work as soon as they recover. Dr Okechukwu was involved in the routine checks until she started to have the typical COVID-19 symptoms.
“When I came down, I had nasal itching and itching of the throat. It was overwhelming, so I called immediately to have my sample collected that same day, and that night I started having fever, body pains and headache. I was coughing throughout the night, I knew this could be COVID-19 because these were the basic symptoms. Immediately my result was communicated to me that I was positive, I moved to the treatment centre because I was staying with my family” she said.
Two other members of her family also tested positive for the virus and were treated and recovered as she did. Her primary aim in telling her recovery story is to let everyone know that COVID-19 is real and to reiterate the need for preventive measures to be taken. From her observation, getting treated and monitoring others in the treatment centre, Dr Okechukwu recommends early management.
“The key thing is to identify early symptoms and get tested immediately. Some people first start treating malaria, even some of the health care workers. I presented early so the treatment was instituted early at the treatment centre and everything that needed to be done for me was done. Once symptoms show, it becomes very aggressive depending on the severity. I think the worst, is when you have catarrh, nasal infection, cough or throat infection. The organism goes straight into the respiratory tract and shuts down the system. This is very aggressive because within three days of your having the symptoms of cough, the lungs can be invaded and it causes lung fibrosis which is a nasty complication. This is why many people die. It displaces the oxygen in the body and the oxygen level goes down. That is also why some people wonder why within just a week of having symptoms, they already have these complications. This is why we need to present very early,” she concluded.
According to Dr Okechukwu, she remained calm throughout the entire process because she was taking all her medications and resting. She said, “When you’re resting right, your drugs work better, and your body builds up your immune system and tissues of your body to fight the disease.” Speaking on the recovery process, she said “The recovery was not easy because I had cough and body weakness, even though I had now tested negative for COVID-19, the weakness and respiratory problems remained. Many people, like me, also complain about the aftermath of the COVID-19 infection. The journey to complete recovery is challenging, it can take months.”
The presence of co-morbidity in patients and late detection is what puts many people at risk of death, Dr Okechukwu said. She also added that “Medical personnel in other facilities have the highest number of COVID-19 infections across the FCT. Those in the treatment centre constitute only 11% of the total health worker infections. Improper or inconsistent use of personal protective equipment is a possible reason for the higher number. But the treatment centre responders have already been trained to use their protective equipment adequately.”
Even though she remains unaware of how she may have contracted the virus, Dr Okechkwu continues to advocate the use of non-pharmaceutical preventive measures. She further added that “All those who have had the virus need to share their story. If you are a boss in the office, or you have people who look up to you, commit to saving lives by sharing your COVID-19 recovery story, and also everyone should get tested, even though you are asymptomatic.”She emphasised that “COVID-19 infection is not a death sentence, especially when you present very early. For people that know they are infected and have refused to get treatment, my only word of advice to them is to know that COVID-19 when you present early will not take your life. You didn’t commit any sin to contract the virus, so, be calm, take your drugs, and you will pull through. I have experienced it and survived it.”
This narrative was done in January 2021 as part of the #COVID19NigeriaStories documentation project on state-level responses to COVID-19, implemented by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Ford Foundation.