BY PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI
(Dean; School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University)
Yesterday (May 2) as I was watching the 9:00 o’clock prime news on Citizen TV, I was taken aback by the revelation that some Kenyans are apprehensive to the COVID-19 testing.
As we are aware, the governments, national and county, have launched mass testing exercise.
This is a social epidemiology, as well as, medical process to establish the status of the spread of COVID-19. This is not new but a normal epidemiological process for getting real time data on trends and patterns of a disease spread for informed decision making and intervention.
I watched, Governor Hassan Ali Joho almost loosing it wondering why people in his Mombasa County, especially Old Town dwellers don’t want to be tested and yet they have the highest rate of COVID-19 infections and have already registered six (6) COVID-19 deaths in a row. It was clearly stated that the testing is free sponsored by the county.
Speaker after speaker emphasized the need to test but what caught my eye and attention was the concurrence between Mr Joho and the Mombasa County Commissioner Gilbert Kitiyo that if the people of Old Town refused to comply to the free testing then they will be forced to lockdown the entire Mji wa Kale area completely and impose mandatory door-to-door testing.
But why are people afraid of the COVID-19 testing?
One of the obvious reasons is the stigma that comes with a positive test. We have stigmatized COVID-19 epidemic badly ourselves by the way we have approached it.
I know it’s an epidemic but we have had epidemics before COVID-19. How did we handle them and where did we go wrong?
One mistake we have been doing is to exclude sociologists and anthropologists, a mistake which the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges in the way Ebola was handled.
In fact, the stigmatization of COVID-19 has now degenerated further into discrimination of those who test positive and their families. Thus, for fear of such stigmatization and exclusion, people are not willing to take the test.
When one tests positive, they are taken into self, forced or mandatory quarantine centres and when they worsen into isolation centres where they are no longer known by their names but admission or patient numbers, Goffman, a renown sociologist once placed hospitals and prisons into the same class and called them Total Institutions, where one completely looses their identify as a person.
Worse in isolation centre no friends are allowed to visit. We are used to visiting the sick and motivating them and pray for their quick recovery and show our solidarity, a situation that COVID-19 does not allow, further making us scared to take the test.
However, when the worst happen, complications in breathing and ICU care, one is alone with no support of their loved ones.
More scaring is the cost that comes with the treatment that is to be born out by those infected and their families.
While it’s true in other countries people want to be tested for COVID-19, their health systems, especially medical insurance is solid and offer s guarantees of care.
The question is when one voluntarily goes for testing, then, is found positive, we need to know then what? Does it mean the isolation and everything that will happen, thereafter; will be paid by the government, national or county?
People need guarantees of care in case they turn positive. Governor Joho comes out clear on this and people will come out to be tested.
Further, people are afraid of the test because of the eventuality of a positive test and the worst COVID-19 case scenario.
The way the dead from COVID-19 have been handled sends shivers to our communities down to the spine.
We are used to mourn the dead and some celebrate the lives of the departed. The hallmark of our demise had been glorified depending on ones class.
If you have a name in the community then your mourning and burial is in an accentuated status, but now, class or no class you die from COVID-19 within 24 hours you are buried and by a handful of family and friends, around 15 people in under tight security.
Finally, the family and friends are reduced to mere spectators in sending off their loved ones.
Thus, the sending off of patients who have died of COVID-19 does not fit the bill of Islamic and Christian culture and practices.
Worse are the fact that most Africans are spiritual dualists, adherents of African Traditional believes and practices and main stream religious faiths.
Remember in African Traditional believes and practices the body dies and is buried, while the spirit is with us and pays a visit sometime.
How do we live with the spirit of the dead when the burial did not follow the tradition? These are some of the explainers why people don’t want to take the COVID-19 test.
I am sure you are asking, then how do we make them go for the mass testing? We will make an attempt to answer this question in our next article.