For Grace Ziyambi, a primary care counsellor in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, contracting the novel coronavirus was one thing.
But surviving and recovering from the long-term effects of the virus was quite another.
For her, surviving the deadly pandemic which has so far killed 255 people out of the 8 667 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, has not shielded her from stigma.
Ziyambi has, apart from surviving the pandemic, suffered social ejection and exclusion in one way or the other.
“It was through the sheer grace of God that I survived this pandemic,” she said in an interview with The Herald recently at an event to commemorate the Global Hand Washing day at Murombedzi Growth Point in Zvimba.
“Being positive to Covid-19 was a challenge for me and it drastically changed my lifestyle with a blink of an eye. Once you test positive for Covid-19, no one sympathises with you. You become an outcast in the society. You need to be strong-hearted and strong-willed to survive.”
The Government counsellor said she experienced emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, worry and helplessness.
“As a survivor, I was insulted, shunned, marginalised and rejected in different aspects of my life,” she said. “In my daily life, insults, alienation and name calling became the order of the day for me as I reported for work or as I socialised in various settings.”
Battling stigma was not easy for Ziyambi.
“Every day, l would receive insults and name calling from the commuter omnibus drivers, conductors and even vendors,” she said. “Some would say, ‘See the Covid-19 heroine’ or ‘This is the lady who is positive, do not get near her’.
“They would hurl insults in front of me and this made me lose my self-esteem.”
At one point, Ziyambi said, she even mulled leaving work because of stigma.
She tested positive for Covid-19 whilst she was on duty at the Ministry of Health and Child Care in July this year.
At the time, she experienced fever, loss of smell, taste and appetite and experienced severe bouts of headache.
“I would bask in the sun and even switch on the heater to feel warm,” said Ziyambi. “After showing these symptoms, I went to a nearby clinic to be attended to.
“Some members in the community did not believe that the pandemic was there until I tested positive. They started to believe its existence when they heard that I was positive and that Madzorera Clinic had been closed.”
Ziyambi said there was complacency even after the Covid-19 regulations of sanitasation, wearing of masks or practising of social distancing were gazetted.
People stigmatised her even before she got the results of the tests.
When she got the results, she had to go into self-isolation for 14 days at her brother’s house in Chinhoyi so that she could not spread the virus to other people.
The house was first visited by health officials to check whether the place was conducive for her to stay.
She stayed in the cottage which was self-contained.
The cottage had its own bathroom and toilet.
Ziyambi did not have contact with anyone for 14 days as food and all the basics she needed were left at the doorstep every time.
No one was allowed to enter the room she was using.
“I would give the doctor some updates every day on how l was recovering and after 14 days the doctor certified that I was fit and could mix and mingle with other people,” she said.
Self isolation was one of the hardest time of her.
“I had nothing to entertain me,” she said. “I could not meet or socialise with people. The only thing that kept me company was my cellphone.”
Ziyambi said counselling was the biggest factor leading to her recovery.
“I got counselling from relatives, friends, church mates and workmates,” she said. “I also received testimonies from other victims of Covid-19 and Bible scriptures from church mates. Their support worked miracles for me. It gave me hope.”
Suffering from Covid–19 gave her some useful lessons about life.
“I realised so many things about life,” said Ziyambi. “I realised that there were people who cared so much about me. Being Covid-19 positive does not mean it’s the end of life.
“We should live with hope. I am a survivor of the pandemic which has claimed millions of people across the world.”
Most of her workmates who tested positive after her were also sent into self isolation.
Her daughter, Chiedza Chidhakwa, who took care of her during the sickness said when her mother fell sick, she thought that it was just flu.
“It was not hard for me to take care of her or fear because I did not think about Covid-19 when she fell sick,” she said. “I thought it was just flu. I would do all the household chores, mix and mingle with her.
“Sometimes l would prepare home remedies for her.”
Chiedza said after the self-isolation phase, her worst fear was of her family being rejected by the community.
“I feared stigma,” she said. “Fortunately, our local community was quite supportive. I was grateful for this.”
Ziyambi urged the people to continue observing all Covid-19 regulations and to help affected people by giving them moral support.
“There are no special people or exceptions when it comes to the pandemic because it affects all whether black or white, poor or rich,” she said.
“We must continue observing Covid-19 regulations – sanitising our hands wherever we are, proper wearing of the masks and practising social distance. People should take Covid-19 seriously. This pandemic is not yet over. It’s still there and its killing hundreds of people every day,” said Ziyambi.