Overcoming COVID-19 at 99 years-old in Guinea

WHEN Bagama Guehara walked out of Donka Hospital in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, on July 7 this year, leaning on a walking stick for support, she was met with rapturous applause from the medical staff and fellow patients.

At 99, Guehara is the oldest person to have tested positive for COVID-19 in Guinea since the country’s first positive case was detected on March 13. Guinea has since recorded 10 344 infections and 65 deaths. The highest case fatality rate has been in patients over 60 years old, which made Guehara’s recovery all the more significant.

“My family were very worried because of my age,” she says. “They didn’t think I would be able to survive. But I overcame my fears and kept my hopes up because the doctors took good care of me and reassured me.”

Guehara’s symptoms had started with a dry cough. Though she had initially thought little of it, she had taken the precaution of calling her daughter, who is a doctor, and who immediately sent a medical team to take her mother to hospital. Guehara tested positive for COVID-19 on June 18.

She was put on a ventilator for her first several days in the hospital, increasing the levels of oxygen in her blood from a worrying 75% back to a healthy 90%. From then on, she was closely monitored by the hospital’s medical team for almost three weeks, until her follow-up test came back negative and she was told she could leave the facility and return home.

“Everyone thinks it is a miracle,” Guehara says. “In the hospital, when other patients saw me walking out of the ward, it gave them hope that they would also recover.”

In the weeks since Guehara was discharged, Guinea has rapidly scaled up testing, carrying out around 1000 tests per day since 20 July. The country has also reopened commercial air travel in a bid to help resuscitate its economy.

But Guehara cautions that her fellow citizens must not become complacent and should continue to follow basic public health measures such as good hand hygiene and social distancing. “COVID-19 is very real,” she says. “It can affect anyone. Everyone has to play their part.” – WHO-Africa.