Feature: Kenya's COVID-19 patients speak out to raise awareness, fight stigma

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NAIROBI, July 24 (Xinhua) -- Dozens of Kenyans who have contracted COVID-19 are coming out to speak about their experiences, raising awareness about the disease whose infections continue to escalate at a disturbing rate in Kenya.

The narration of their experiences is turning out to be a big boost to the country's fight against the disease that threatens to overwhelm the health system.

Kenya on Thursday recorded the biggest spike in COVID-19 infections as 796 people tested positive, pushing the total caseload to 15,601.

But despite the surge in cases, some Kenyans are still ignoring containment measures like social distancing, wearing of face masks and sanitizing.

In the rural areas, those flouting the health protocols believe that the disease is a problem in Nairobi, Kenya's capital, which accounts for about 80 percent of the total cases.

Similarly, in towns like Nairobi and Mombasa, those ignoring the containment measures are mainly the youth who believe that the disease affects largely the old and those with pre-existing conditions.

The COVID-19 patients are majorly recounting their experiences on social media, mainstream media outlets and virtual meetings.

"Finally, I have the courage to admit that I contracted COVID-19. I have racked up my mind to find out where I could have been exposed and honestly I don't know," recounted Muthee Mwangi on social media on Friday.

Muthee said that it started with a mild cough, a chill and a slight fever of which he took antibiotics, cough syrups and pain killers, hoping that he will recover.

When there was no improvement, he took a COVID-19 test and it turned out positive after a few days.

"I immediately went into isolation as I notified my contacts of my status. The fever got worse and sweating intensified, and so were the coughs and headaches," he said.

The office worker then lost his sense of smell and taste. "I could not walk even for a distance of three meters without getting out of breath and coughing continuously," he recalled, noting he was completely isolated in his house from his wife and children.

Warm fluids, fruits and a concoction of ginger helped eliminate the symptoms as he stayed in isolation for 22 days.

"It has been a long and reflective journey that made me reflect on my lifestyle, friends and decisions but I lived to tell my experience," he said, asking citizens to follow all health protocols.

For Amakove Wala, a medical doctor and a COVID-19 patient, who has also spoken out, she decided to tell her story to fight stigma.

"When I got my COVID-19 test result, I was numb. All I could think of was my family members, my young children and my ailing mother," she said.

It all started with flu-like symptoms that lasted a week. "Then I couldn't taste or smell anything. But my breathing was clear and there was no sore throat. There is nothing to do but manage the symptoms. COVID-19 is real. It is in the community," she said.

Boniface Kibui, a resident of Mombasa who contracted the disease and recovered, said he does not hesitate to share his experiences with anyone who cares to listen.

"Some people ask, do you know who has tested or contracted the virus and I say myself. This helps eliminate doubts about the disease," he said on the phone.

Government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna is among high-profile people who have spoken about their COVID-19 status.

Oguna recounted that after coming out of an assignment recently outside the capital, he tested positive and he is on medication.

"I urge all Kenyans to take the disease seriously and take all necessary precautions to avoid getting infected," he said.

According to Mercy Mwangangi, the chief administrative secretary in Kenya's Ministry of Health, stigma is one of the challenges in the fight against the disease.

"COVID-19 is a disease like any other and anyone can get it. Therefore, there is no need of stigmatizing anyone who gets it," she said.

She observed that the government is changing its tact in fighting the disease by creating more awareness, encouraging people to speak out, get tests and understand why they should observe all the containment measures. Enditem

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