Dressed in a traditional long shirt and matching pants, 56-year-old Moussa Ndiaye stands in front of his house in Pikine Tally Boumack, a suburb of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The illness that has tormented him for months shows in his tired face.
Mr. Ndiaye was one of the first people in Senegal to be infected with COVID-19. After recovering, Mr. Ndiaye continues to use preventative measures to avoid being infected a second time. He wears a mask over his nose, mouth, and chin, keeps a safe distance from others, using hand sanitizer frequently, and has since received a full course of vaccination.
Mr. Ndiaye is originally from Baol, a town 135 km from Dakar in the Diourbel region. After studying in Baol, he came to Dakar with his father.
Married with five children, Mr. Ndiaye sells fruits, vegetables, and second-hand clothes in a local weekly market. He says the work is risky because it exposes him to COVID-19.
He recalls his panic when he learned he had been infected and describes the symptoms that alerted him to his illness.
He says, “It was March 19, 2020 and when I came home from work, I started to feel cold, with a high fever. At first I thought it was the flu.”
These symptoms were followed by respiratory problems, vomiting, diarrhea, and aches and pains. After a few days at home, Mr. Ndiaye’s family accompanied him to hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19.
He was later transferred to the regional Fann University Hospital, which was supposed to be better equipped to deal with COVID-19. Mr. Ndiaye recalls sitting in a silent hospital room with a few other patients, all of them wearing oxygen masks, and hearing the news. The silence was heavy with worry.
Mr. Ndiaye says the experience was terrible and humiliating. He explains, “We were stigmatized. We were shunned like the plague. In the beginning, even some doctors approached us fearfully.”
He now feels that this kind of stigma is dangerous because it could prevent people from getting tested for COVID-19.
He says, “People don’t realize that with stigmatizing actions like these, they can kill thousands of patients.”
Mr. Ndiaye says that his family was also stigmatized by the people around them. Because of his illness, some friends and neighbours did not visit Mr. Ndiaye and his family.
He adds, “Neighbours told their relatives to beware of us and to stay away so as not to be infected. It was hard for my family.”
He was devastated by what people said about him and his family, and says that, at times, the stigma was harder to bear than the illness. He recalls being called offensive names like “Mr. COVID.”
Mr. Ndiaye says: “I learned a lot about my neighbourhood from my experience with COVID-19. I didn’t know that some people could take pleasure in other people’s misfortune. Some people didn’t pass by our house anymore, or even our neighbourhood.”
Today, Mr. Ndiaye has made a full recovery and considers himself lucky. But he says that nothing will be the same as before COVID-19 and that he still experiences after-effects of the disease.
He explains: “I quickly run out of steam on certain things I used to do before the disease without issue. I also sometimes have pain in my joints when I wake up, which was not the case before.”
To protect himself and his family, Mr. Ndiaye is now very careful about his behaviour, and uses his experience to help others learn about COVID-19.
He says: “Since I know how COVID-19 is transmitted, I have taught my family. And even those who used to run away from me at the beginning of the pandemic are listening to me now.”
Mr. Ndiaye’s family has now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and continues to practice preventative measures such as wearing masks and using hand sanitizer frequently.
To set an example for his community, Mr. Ndiaye received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. He is willing to get a third dose, if necessary, to maintain his immunity and stay safe from new variants. He says it’s important to be vaccinated even if you have previously been infected with COVID-19 and recovered.
Mr. Ndiaye says, “I respect the preventive measures and I require anyone who comes to my house to wear a mask. From now on, you can call me ‘Mr. Mask.’”
This resource is funded by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada as part of the Life-saving Public Health and Vaccine Communication at Scale in sub-Saharan Africa (or VACS) project.
Photo: People in Mali take precautions against COVID-19. Credit: Ousmane Traore (MAKAVELI) for the World Bank.