MAVERICK CITIZEN REFLECTION

Covid-19 from the perspective of a drug-resistant TB survivor

By Bongekile Booi 28 July 2020

Bongekile Booi. (Photo supplied)

For now, let us just hope for the best, a drop in the number of cases at least. We’ll deal with the demons when we’ve fought and overcome this crisis, and we can only achieve that by working together. ‘Nkosi sikelel’izwelakho’ (God bless your world).

My name is Bongekile Booi, but some call me Bobo. I am a 20-year-old woman living in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape with both my parents, my niece, my nephew and my eight-month-old baby boy. Khayelitsha is one of the hotspot areas for Covid-19 infections in the province and it was the first township to record a Covid-19 case in the Western Cape. As of 21 July 2020, there are 7,780 proven cases in this area. It is a big township that consists of mostly informal settlements, making it easy for the virus to keep spreading. 

In 2016, I was diagnosed with drug-resistant TB (DR-TB). It was a scary time when treatment was difficult and unpredictable. There was a lot of troubling stigma around the disease, and its treatment and even though today I am cured, I see similar issues around stigma and distrust around the current pandemic.

It is hard for people to follow the lockdown rules here in Khayelitsha, as we share most resources and services, such as sanitation, and there is no availability of the basic necessities. Apart from these challenges, we also seem to be unable to change. People here do not abide by the lockdown rules. They sit in groups without wearing any protective masks or practising any safety precautions, children are playing in the streets and people are going about their lives normally. Shopping malls are fully packed, and yes, people are there for essentials, but they do not take into consideration the prescribed physical distancing methods.

At first, people may have been a bit skeptical about the existence of this virus, but it is evident now that it’s real. The virus has taken a significant toll all over the world with its unforeseen challenges, and citizens are shaken. What more do people need to see to be convinced that this is real? It seems like we just have to adjust to the new normal and abide by the lockdown rules.

This Covid-19 pandemic has affected my life in a very bad way. Things are not the same any more and our daily lives have become more demanding. The kids are always at home, meaning we have to provide more meals per day. Businesses are struggling, causing stress and depression among their employees which are our parents, and siblings. This causes tension at home as people are scared of losing their jobs and therefore are always grumpy, and stressed out. 

In the essence of it all, I fear for my life as well. When I was diagnosed with DR-TB, I had to take medication for two years. It was a very difficult time for me as I had to take plus/minus 32 tablets a day. Most of the time, I felt nauseous after taking my treatment and would therefore throw up. The nurses suggested that I take my pills with orange juice to avoid nausea, which helped. 

After all the struggles, I eventually finished my treatment in 2018. From my experience, I feel like TB is not too different from Covid-19 as they both have an airborne transmission, just that Covid-19 can also spread by just touching or being in contact with an infected person or surface. I feel like TB is a bit more merciful than the virus because at least TB has a treatment and your chances of dying are only if you don’t take your medication. People are more scared of Covid-19 than of TB as corona spreads faster and has proven to be extremely deadly.

As a DR-TB survivor, I live in fear of whether or not I would survive if I got infected by the virus as my lungs are damaged from TB and I therefore would not be able to fight the virus. I’m afraid I might make it to the statistics of the people who got infected or maybe even of those who died from Covid-19. 

I also fear for those who are still on TB treatment. Do they have access to healthcare as TB is an illness that requires you to visit the clinic on a daily basis? Do they get all their medications or daily injections for those who are on injections? What if they get in contact with the virus while out to seek medical attention? What are the chances of them surviving Covid-19 if they happen to get infected? These are questions I ask myself each and every day. Living with TB is a struggle on any given day. I cannot imagine the struggles they go through during the time of this pandemic.

Soon after I started my treatment, my eight-year-old niece tested positive for TB. She was diagnosed with drug-sensitive TB and had to take medication for six months. She recovered, although TB can permanently damage your lungs. She is in Grade 2 and excited about being in this grade as she is still new in primary school. She misses school so much and has been asking when schools are reopening. 

The sad part is that even though schools are reopening, she won’t be able to go back to school because of her medical history as it is instructed that if an individual is unfit health-wise, they should not attend. She cried when we told her this and you could tell that she is deeply hurt.

I also fear for my own child at this time as he is only eight months old and has not yet received all of his vaccines. I do not know if his immune system would be able to withstand the virus if he was to get infected. It is said that when a child has received all his/her immunisations up to three years, then they are not likely to get infected with most illnesses. He is too young to even take the home remedies that people recommend to fight this virus. I try by all means to keep him safe by cleaning the house with detergents regularly.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts. For now, let us just hope for the best, a drop in the number of cases at least. We’ll deal with the demons when we’ve fought and overcome this crisis, and we can only achieve that by working together. Nkosi sikelel’izwelakho (God bless your world). DM/MC

Bongekile Booi is a trainee filmmaker, writer and administrator at Eh!woza, a public engagement platform that engages young people with biomedical research around infectious disease, and provides a platform for young people to tell stories about the personal and social impact of these diseases. 

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