My COVID-19 Experience - Erenius Nakadio
My journey in COVID 19 pandemic response began on the 31st of December 2019 when the first case was reported in Wuhan Province, China and its subsequent declaration as a pandemic on the 11th of March 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO); although the climax of it all was that moment the index case was reported in Kenya on the 13th of March,2020. As an aspiring epidemiologist and a KFELTP resident, my main role was in contact tracing, rapid response to alerts for suspected cases and data management. I participated in contact tracing for the first one month of the outbreak and thereafter joined the national rapid response team (RRT) at the ministry of health till now. As a contact tracer, I gained hands-on experience in cases & contacts identification as well as contacts listing, follow-up and discharge. While leading one of the RRTs, my key roles were to; organize the RRT in planning for an investigation through defining to the RRT members the objectives of the investigation and assigning tasks to each member on the team. Part of my responsibility was also to report to relevant national authorities (e.g. Emergency Operation Centre-EOC) and other relevant authorities while ensuring a coordinated response among team members, collection of information from all team members daily such as epidemiological data, response activities, challenges and recommendations and also being responsible for the welfare of the team members. More so, I led a team from the national emergency operation center to Laikipia county to capacity build the county health management team and also to assess their COVID-19 preparedness as county. This activity was for a period of eight days (from 19th to 26th May,2020). To date, I continue to participate in rapid response activities at the national level while providing periodic capacity building activities at the counties level.
However, I encountered some challenges during my day to day involvement in the COVID- 19 emergency response. Being a frontline health care worker and by nature of my work, I was at a very high risk of being infected by the SARS COV 2 virus but after being taken through training especially on Infection Prevention Control (IPC) protocols and regulations, was able to overcome the fear and risks associated with my duties. Stigmatization and victimization by the general population and even very close friends and family members was another constraint which I took upon myself to overcome through sensitization and risk communication to all those concerned. At the beginning, responding to cases alerts from home posed a big threat because of the higher exposure and risk it posed to myself and colleagues but this was solved through provision of alternative accommodation for all RRT members that made it easy for the teams to respond from a central and convenient location. Routine testing for all the team members also ensured that we were always safe from infection. There was fatigue and burn out during the mass testing exercises especially in epicenters within Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS) area that led to some stressful situations. This was however, managed through preparation of schedules that allowed for off days for members as well as regular consultative and counselling sessions organized by the RRT coordination team.
Despite all the above, I learnt a lot of lessons in my engagements in the COVID-19 emergency response activities. I learnt that a multi-sectoral approach is very important in responding to an emergency of any nature, including in a disease pandemic of the nature we were experiencing. Mopping up of various experts from diverse but related disciplines and coordinating them from a central command ensures timely, efficient and effective implementation of the response activities. Continuous sensitization and capacity building of front-line health care workers both at national and county level ensures that new ideas and insights are taken into consideration especially when dealing with an emerging virus like the SARS COV-2.
Last but not least, my general perception about COVID-19 is that the disease is real and a public health concern to our country and the entire world. However, this pandemic also offers an opportunity for us as country to learn our lessons and be able to make good use of those lessons to fix our shortcomings especially so in the health care system. This will also be a golden opportunity for myself to apply the knowledge and skills gained from my participation in the response to COVID-19 emergency to providing solutions to the challenges encountered in the period of the pandemic through research undertakings.