“It weighs you down,” Congo COVID-19 survivor recounts

YAFFA Fatoumata hoped that the fever and the sore throat she was suffering were just signs of a passing flu. 

However, when the symptoms persisted, the26-year-old legal assistant in Republic of the Congo’s Ministry of Communication decided to get tested for COVID-19. Two days after the test, her results turned out positive for the virus.

“I was very stressed because it’s a disease that’s still not really understood,” he says. “I also felt guilty that I had exposed my family.”

Since local authorities confirmed Congo’s first case of COVID-19 on 14 March, the country has registered over 5000 cases and 3920 recoveries.

Fatoumata speaks about her personal experience with the virus, the fear and shame that surrounds it, and her road to recovery.

How did your family react to the news that you had tested positive for COVID-19?

They were very panicked at first. They also didn’t want me to go to the treatment centre, but eventually they were reassured that I needed to be away from them for their own safety.

What was your experience during isolation?

I stayed for 28 days at the treatment centre where I was on treatment for 15 days, then a week of observation, and a final test after which I was discharged.  

It’s a very difficult experience. It weighs you down over time. You cannot venture outside. You’re not allowed to have visitors. You can only speak to family over the phone. Fortunately, we received psychosocial care. Otherwise you could start to go crazy.

But I wasn’t completely alone. Other patients and I would sit at our doors and chat to try to forget the loneliness and confinement.

You must have been greatly relieved when you were told you no longer had the virus?

I felt great joy. When some of the other patients and I were waiting for our follow up test results, there was so much anticipation it was like we were about to get our high school diplomas. It was an immensely happy and truly unforgettable moment when my family came to pick me up.

Did you face any stigma from your community having tested positive?

When I tested positive, I tried to hide it to begin with because here in Congo COVID-19 can sometimes be seen as a shameful disease. But gradually, I realized that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. I haven’t faced any stigma since I was discharged. On the contrary, by speaking about my experience, people are intrigued and begin to take it more seriously, particularly because I am young. Initially, people thought the virus only affects older people. But it affects everyone.

Was it easy to return to some kind of normalcy after you were discharged?

At first, I was a bit disoriented, seeing so many people, so many vehicles driving around and so on. But I am slowly getting back to my normal life. When you’re discharged, you can’t just carry on immediately as if nothing happened. It’s a gradual process. – WHO-Africa.