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One-on-one interview with first Covid-19 patient in Zimbabwe

The Ministry of Health and Child Care interviewed the first person to test positive for Covid-19 in Zimbabwe who agreed to speak on conditions of anonymity. Below is the full interview:

Question: You were the first confirmed Covid-19 case in the country and the public knows that the first case was imported. Can you give a brief account of your travel history, and where you could have picked the infection?

Answer: I had travelled to boost tourism to Zimbabwe as part of a marketing and sales drive on behalf of my work, the private sector and Tourism Authority to the UK early March (2020). It was a great event and there were many interested agents and guests. I believe this is where I contracted Coronavirus. At the time of travel, there were no restrictions on travel. Had we known what would happen, we would not have travelled.

Question: Before you tested positive here in Zimbabwe, did it ever occur to you that you might have picked the infection, either during your stay outside the country, or as you travelled back into Zimbabwe? Moreover, how did it feel to live or travel under such exposure knowing that cases had begun to pick outside Africa?

Answer: Once in the UK the first few cases were picked up, but only a handful, we started to be aware that the situation was turning albeit slowly. We took extra precautions of course and this is where I was told by my place of work to self-isolate upon return. Thank goodness, they were strict. This meant no further infections were possible.

Question: At what stage did you decide that you should test for Covid- 19?

Answer: After being home for 2 days in self-isolation, I felt weak and flu like symptoms. Originally, I thought it was just jet lag and tiredness from a week of business travel, but after 48 hrs, I spoke to a doctor (General Practitioner) and as cases had increased he advised to speak with the Rapid Response Task Force leader in Victoria Falls and they came and did the test.

Question: When you finally got your test results indicating that you were Covid-19 positive, what quickly came into your mind? How did you take it given this was the first case to be reported in the country?

Answer: It was a shock at first. Head was spinning and was worried I had infected others on the trip, or had they infected me and who else was at risk. The doctor calmed me down and we were very thorough in tracing others. I am glad to report that those others were all negative. No one catches Coronavirus deliberately, but we owe it to trace all others as precaution to keep them safe. The Rapid Response Team and the doctors were all very professional and made me feel safe, even though we were not as prepared as we are now in Vic Falls.

Question: So far, you are only person who did not have a contact, who tested positive thereafter. Does this mean that you never got into contact with anyone before you tested positive or, are there be any precautionary measures that you took upon your return as an individual, to protect possibly your family, your community as well as the health workers who attended to you before going into self-isolation?

Answer: I was aware of the need to self-isolate. Therefore, even when travelling home I kept socially distanced. I wiped down anything I touched; I did not shake hands with colleagues at the airport. I made sure I kept my hands clean etc. And hygiene was key. I kept self-isolated. Even when returning from the UK where I assume I had it, I was not coughing or sneezing. So therefore, even though it was within me, I was prudent enough not to be touching my face, nose etc and not to cough or sneeze anywhere. Then once at home and isolated it was contained. Big thanks to my work for advising me on precautions. Nowadays, we can get advice from lots of places, back then as citizens we were somewhat immature in understanding how to prevent the spread.

Question: After testing positive, you were in self-isolation at home presumably, up until you fully recovered. What has been your experience under isolation? How often did health workers visit you and where you on any medication? If so which medication where you taking and how did you prevent spreading the virus to those you lived with?

Answer: It was hard to self-isolate at first, but I knew it was my duty. At that time there was no lock down so life outside of my property was still happening. Friends’ gatherings, social sports etc. I was unable to partake. This, even before I tested positive. I am grateful I didn’t attend; as we can now prove that isolation worked as no other cases were reported. The mental part is hardest not being able to leave a property. Health workers were always on hand via phone or WhatsApp to assist if my symptoms took a dive for the worse. Luckily, I had mild symptoms. The worst was difficulty breathing, but I managed that with warm drinks and paracetamol when I had body aches. Remember these are not cures and the virus affects people differently. Especially obese, elderly and those with underlying health issues. I was fortunate I was in good health, but it's not about me being ok, it's about me passing it on to a friend who passes it to their grandmother who will suffer. Hence, isolation was key. Health workers would check on me via phone and then proceed depth follow up tests to prove I was cleared and not contagious. Throughout the ordeal, they were and continue to be professional and caring.

Question: What lessons did you draw from your experiences, that you might want to share with other patients currently under isolation as well as members of the general public?

Answer: If you have it (Coronavirus), you need to protect those around you…self- isolate. Even if you don’t think you have it, it's best to take precautions. Wearing of masks helps in public. Try not to shake hands etc and practice social distance when out. The person in the queue in front of you might seem healthy, but they could pass it to you, anyone who passes, the elderly or healthy loved ones. Rather be safe than sorry, but don’t live life in fear. Just be cautious.

Question: In terms of the country's national response, which areas do you think should get thumps up and which ones need further strengthening?

Answer: Our country is different to others whereby food security is better. I believe the lockdown helped and prevented the spread allowing our health services to get better prepared. I am glad to see the lifting of certain areas to allow livelihoods to be able to function more now and hope that there will be no more cases and that we can further assist people by lifting lock down rules and allow those that lived on daily sales to be able to return to work. There is the debate of lives vs livelihoods- any life lost is terrible. I believe we are now starting to focus more on allowing livelihoods not to be lost with the opening of work places and allowing people to earn a living to feed their families. We remain guided by our health experts of course.

Question: What would be your message of awareness from the perspective of someone who recovered from Covid-19?

Answer: It is beatable if we are healthy and stick together. We need to protect the elderly and the venerable.

Question: You have agreed to have this interview on condition of anonymity. What can you say regarding levels of stigma and discrimination in Zimbabwe, compared to the country you were travelling from, which had long recorded confirmed cases of Covid-19 and how best do you think messages should be relayed in the interest of public health and patient's rights.

Answer: No one chooses to catch Coronavirus. When I tested positive, people immediately thought I invented Coronavirus and was the only one with it. The truth is that it could have been in Zim before. I was the first case discovered, so there was stigma. People suddenly wondered when they last saw me, if I had passed it on etc, but I was confident in the isolation that I had not. Again, no one chooses to catch Coronavirus and no one willingly passes it on, hence the need to protect oneself and others. We need to be aware of livelihoods that have been destroyed by Coronavirus especially in the tourism sector and the jobs it supports not only directly, but indirectly such as the farmers, bakers, craftsmen etc that would sell their wares to industry that consumed such via the tourists. We need to help out where possible until, as a country we can get back on our feet again and rise to new heights.

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