Protecting family from COVID-19

Adhering to self-quarantine

By Sellina Kainja
Richard Mbuto back in his office at Songwe border following his recovery from COVID-19
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Malumbo Simwaka
06 October 2020

 Songwe border in Karonga district is one of the busiest points of entry into the country. In the port health office sits Richard Mbuto, a clearing agent for a logistics company called Manica.

Mbuto tested positive for COVID-19 on 15 August 2020 and was immediately advised to self-quarantine for 14 days. His symptoms included a mild cough, fever and general body pains. He sought medical treatment from Atupele Clinic and was also tested for malaria, but the result was negative.

While at the clinic, health officials from Karonga District Health Office (DHO) arrived to get samples from suspected COVID-19 patients. They asked if he was willing to be tested, to which he agreed and samples were taken.

“I self-quarantined in my bedroom for 14 days. I made sure not to interact with my children or other family members. I would come out at night to exercise and only when the children were in their rooms,” Mbuto explained.

Karonga DHO officials were constantly following up on his recovery. However, they stopped their visits after noticing that some community members were becoming suspicious of their presence.

According to Mbuto, the officials were concerned that his family and children would be discriminated against. They continued their check-ups over the phone.

The case management and contact tracing exercises conducted by health officials from Karonga DHO are supported by The Government of Ireland, which provided Euros 500,000 (over 440,000,000 Malawi Kwachas) to UNICEF to assist the Ministry of Health with COVID-19 response. 

Cases of people dodging self-quarantine are many in Karonga, but Mbuto was one of the few who consistently observed quarantine regulations. He says his motivation was his two children and two dependents—a brother and a nephew. He could not imagine seeing them suffer from COVID-19 the way he did, and therefore decided to abide by the health rules.

“The pain I felt, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I kept thinking of what would happen if I transmitted the virus to my children? That is why I followed self-quarantine rules without compromise,” said Mbuto.

On the 15th day of self-quarantine, he was retested and the result was negative. He was  officially discharged from self-quarantine on 31 August 2020.

Tough as the experience was, Mbuto said the choice between being irresponsible and transmitting the disease to his children or being responsible, self-quarantine, and prevent further spread of the disease was an easy one to make. However, since reporting for work on 2 September 2020, he has been shunned by many of his workmates and resolved to confine himself to his office until they feel comfortable enough to associate with him again.

“Unfortunately, some treat me as if I am the virus or as if I still have the virus and that is very painful. The stigma somehow discourages people from seeking medical attention. This contributes to spreading of the virus,” he added.

 He urges everyone who has tested positive to follow preventive measures such as self-quarantine and to practice proper sanitation and hygiene.