Within days of attending a funeral gathering, Thandiwe Ngoma, a resident of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, developed a fever and aches in February this year.
“I had hoped that the fever and body pains I was experiencing were mere signs of flu or malaria and that they would go away in no time. However, after days of using a variety of homemade remedies, I got worse and had great challenges breathing particularly during the night,” she recounted.
It was after symptoms persisted that the 32-year-old Ngoma, a data entry clerk at a non-profit organization, decided to go for a COVID-19 test and the results came out positive.
“I was very scared and anxious at the same time because COVID-19 is still a relatively new disease. The closest I can get to explain what it is like to be sick with the virus is that it feels like severe malaria,” she said.
Ngoma, who after undergoing treatment tested negative for the virus, went on to recount how some friends abandoned her and how she managed issues of stigma and shame she underwent particularly during the period of recovery, which lasted about a month.
“I still get mixed reactions whenever I mention that I am a COVID-19 survivor. Some people immediately distance themselves from me while others are intrigued and want to learn more,” she explained.
An enthusiastic Ngoma has since made it her mission to educate as well as sensitize others about the dangers of COVID-19 using her personal experience through casual interactions.
“The idea is to help save one life at a time. If I can help someone understand that COVID-19 is not a myth as some still believe, that one person will go ahead and convince one or two people to take precautionary measures,” she said.
Ngoma said that talking openly about her experience in an unstructured manner has encouraged many of those she has had conversations with to begin to take preventive measures seriously.
“I do not have a structured plan or program. I reach out to people by simply engaging them in casual talks about everyday life issues like the weather, which on many occasions leading to discussions about COVID-19,” she said.
Ngoma lamented that despite high morbidity and mortality rates worldwide and the media images depicting how the pandemic is ravaging societies, many in Zambia still think that COVID-19 afflicts people in societies far away from Zambia.
“There are a host of myths and misconceptions about COVID-19 and related matters out there that are that need to be addressed before the situation gets out of control,” Ngoma noted.
She, however, remained hopeful that with more COVID-19 survivors in Zambia speaking openly about their encounters with the virus, more members of the public would begin to take measures to prevent the further spread of the virus.