My experience with COVID-19

Fighting infection, coping with quarantine and why vaccines matter

Maher Ghafari
Maher Ghafari, WASH officer with UNICEF in Aleppo receives his second dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Aleppo, Syria.
UNICEF/Syria/2021/Antwan Chnkdji
09 September 2021

I believe that getting vaccinated will improve my chances of not getting infected again and will help protect my beloved family

Maher Ghafari

Aleppo, Syria, 22 August 2021 - Today I got my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine because we are all responsible for fighting this pandemic. I believe that getting vaccinated will improve my chances of not getting infected again and will help protect my beloved family, colleagues at the office and friends.

Last year, both my wife and I got infected with COVID-19. Although we did not panic, we felt rather alert and had consciously been prepared for such a scenario. On the first few days, symptoms included the loss of taste and smell as well as muscle pain, which we used pain relief medications to reduce. Thankfully we did not have any respiratory symptoms.

We were taken aback when we first got the test results. Being unable to predict potential deterioration to our health was also worrisome. There was an incessant flow of information about the virus, and the more we saw what came on the media outlets and digital platforms, the more confused we became. Thus, we decided only to go to reliable sources for information. We did not feel alone during the whole time because of the support we received from our family and colleagues daily via video calls, chat applications and mobile phone messages.

We feared developing respiratory symptoms that could complicate our medical situation and that we might not be able to protect Laura, our four-year-old daughter. As the pain and fatigue started to subside after the first few days, we were reassured that it was unlikely that we develop respiratory symptoms. The challenge now became how to cope with self-isolation and quarantine for at least 15 days while we focus on getting better.

Maher’s daughter Laura, 4, dressed up as a doctor at home during her parents’ quarantine following their infection with COVID-19 last year.
UNICEF/Syria/2020
Maher’s daughter Laura, 4, dressed up as a doctor at home during her parents’ quarantine following their infection with COVID-19 last year.

It was important to explain to our little Laura that there will be no more hugging or kissing. She cried at first and wondered whether that meant we had stopped loving her.

Laura, 4

It was important to explain to our little Laura that there will be no more hugging or kissing. She cried at first and wondered whether that meant we had stopped loving her. But as we explained that it was something temporary, which we had to do because we loved her so much, she was okay.

Being quarantined at home for about 20 days affected our daily routine and forced us to find new ways of doing things. When I felt ready to work, I had to attend all my meetings remotely, via the internet or phone. It was difficult to explain to Laura that I was working and that being home did not mean I can spend all my time with her. For her, it felt like we were on a constant weekend but none of us could go out. I let her join during some of my video meetings to help her grasp the idea of working from home.

We learnt how to take advantage of our time in quarantine to strengthen the relationship among our small family, away from the internet and mobile phones. We came up with new games for Laura. Her favourite was dressing up as a doctor to treat us. She would even excitedly deliver awareness messages about COVID-19 and its preventive measures to us. A while after, we learned that she explains to her friends at the nursery what she had memorized about the pandemic, its prevention and our time in quarantine.

As a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) officer with UNICEF in Aleppo field office, I work on ensuring that people in need are provided with life-saving assistance as well as longer-term durable WASH support. The COVID-19 pandemic came posing a major risk to the health and hygiene of whole communities in such a short time. In Aleppo, since June last year, we had to focus on supporting the most vulnerable people, especially those displaced in camps, by increasing the daily water delivery and thus enabling the promotion of handwashing and hygiene practices. In addition, UNICEF provided remote awareness sessions about the pandemic and its preventive measures, using speakerphones on mobile vehicles to avoid the crowding of people in the camps.

Also, preparing for the reopening of schools, last year, following a period of interruption caused by the first wave of COVID-19 spread and restrictions, was a real challenge. We needed to launch a huge campaign among WASH sector partners to rehabilitate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, ensuring the functionality of handwashing facilities. We also provided infection prevention control and sanitization supplies to students alongside a hygiene awareness campaign.

*Maher Ghafari is a water, sanitation and hygiene officer working with UNICEF in Aleppo, Syria.