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Togo: COVID-19 patient gets the medical treatment and emotional support he needs

It’s Sunday afternoon and the sun is high in Agbalépédo, a suburb north of Lomé, the capital of Togo. Dressed in his usual blue jeans and checkered shirt, Dieudonné Korolakina is on the way to his office. Mr. Korolakina is a journalist and director of a daily newspaper. He says the job keeps him busy and requires him to travel often. 

Visibly in good shape, the forty-year-old is nevertheless one of many in Togo who suffered from severe illness due to COVID-19. 

Mr. Korolakina tested positive after a trip to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where he took part in a seminar on journalism. Both he and his wife started to feel ill about 10 days after his return.

He recalls, “I completely lost my appetite. I could hardly breathe. I couldn’t feel my body anymore.”

Mr. Korolakina soon started to experience respiratory distress. At the hospital, a chest X-ray showed that his lungs had been badly affected by COVID-19. 

He recalls, “I was terrified by the seriousness of the results.”

The suffering of other patients in the intensive care unit, the lack of space in the hospital, and the death of some patients before his eyes only made Mr. Korolakina feel worse.

Fortunately, Mr. Korolakina received immediate care from the hospital staff. As well as putting him on a ventilator to ease his breathing and providing him with medication to ease his symptoms, he says that hospital staff provided him with much-needed information and reassurance.

He says this care was simple yet effective. A psychologist spoke with him about the reality of COVID-19 and was frank with him about the seriousness of his illness. Hospital staff reassured him about the medical treatment he was receiving. Most importantly, they listened to his concerns and answered his questions.

He explains, “This care really helped me fight against the disease. The psychologist who worked with me even let me contact my parents so that I could reassure them that I was all right.” 

Mr. Korolakina says this was a huge comfort to him.

Raoufou Adekambi is a clinical psychologist at the Lomé community hospital. He says that psychological care like this is an important part of recovering from COVID-19. 

He explains that being hospitalized affects the morale of people who are infected with COVID-19, adding that the fear of death and the unknown faced by these patients face is extremely distressing. 

Mr. Adekambi says studies show that the mind plays an important role in strengthening the immune system. 

He explains the psychological care offered to COVID-19 patients: “We have to listen to the patients as they explain their concerns, inform them about COVID-19, listen to their complaints and grievances, and reassure them about the treatment protocol.”

Mr. Adekambi says that the psychologist is sometimes a bridge between reluctant patients and doctors. He adds that patients are sometimes unwilling to share their concerns with their doctors directly, but feel more comfortable doing so with psychologists. The psychologist is then able to calm and reassure them. This makes patients more comfortable and cooperative when receiving medical care.

For COVID-19 patients, who often face a lot of stigma, these simple practices can make a big difference.

After a month of medical treatment and psychological care, Mr. Korolakina recovered completely from COVID-19. After fully recovering, he got vaccinated against COVID-19. He says that he took the vaccine to be safe from severe illness due to COVID-19 in the future.

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: Dieudonné Korolakina. Photo courtesy of Dieudonné Korolakina.