This is a story about Sheila Khoza from Mzinti, (Mpumalanga) shared with us by Grow Great
“Asiyibambeni singayi yekeli, size sifike ekugcineni. Ngithi asiyeni phambili!” These are Community Health Worker (CHW) Sheila Khoza’s words of encouragement to her colleagues across South Arica on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19. Loosely translated, the Siswati phrase means “let’s persevere until the end, let’s move forward” – and it is what has given her courage from the time she was called to be part of Nkomazi’s COVID-19 screening efforts.
“I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be part of the screening campaign at first, but I enjoy it now even though we work non-stop. I love putting on my white overalls and getting to work. I know the coronavirus is very infectious, but I always follow the safety precautions. I’m very proud of being part of efforts to keep my community safe from this disease,” Khoza says. “When I first heard about COVID-19, I didn’t understand the seriousness of it until I saw 25 people being buried in a mass grave in Italy – that gave me a wake-up call.”
Even though Khoza has found her new role as a CHW to be rewarding so far, there are challenges around people’s awareness of COVID-19. She is particularly concerned about the coronavirus myths she believes are hampering efforts to successfully contain the virus, as well as some people who have been sceptical of the nationwide screening campaign.
“Facebook and other social media have shown that they can be harmful during this time. There is a lot of false news circulating. For example, there are people that believe a concoction from Madagascar can cure COVID-19. We’ve had to explain to them that our countries are not the same: we don’t eat the same food or have the same climate. You could find that the drink is harmful. Our government is busy testing its safety and whether it actually works. So far, only a few people have kept us from visiting them at their homes, but the majority have had no problem. Those who wouldn’t let us into their homes were afraid that we [CHWs] would infect them with COVID-19 because we go from home to home screening people for the disease. Some even believe that we’ll infect them with COVID through 5G waves, which is another myth that is going around on social media,” she adds.
The community of Mzinti is largely well-informed and adhering to the lockdown rules implemented by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19, according to Khoza. However, when asked about the high number of cases recorded in the Nkomazi area, Khoza says it’s due to the area being a tourist hotspot, located between the borders of Mozambique and Eswatini.
“Everyone knows what social distancing is, even children – our community is trying their best to do it correctly and I’ve also seen this at the mall and banks. I believe that the real reason for the high number of coronavirus cases is because we are situated next to the Mozambique and Eswatini borders. When the lockdown began, the people from those countries who work on farms in Nkomazi were unable to return home and now they are stuck here. They also don’t have a lot of friends this side who can support them with food and shelter, nor do they have government benefits: a lot of them don’t have passports so they can’t get any assistance. Another reason is that a lot of international tourists would pass through Nkomazi and that possibly contributed to the fast spread of COVID-19 here. One of the first cases was traced back to the Spar in Malelane and that is where many tourists exchange their money. It is also the preferred supermarket for many of our community members.”
Despite the high number of cases, Khoza says she is happy that there have been no cases recorded so far. She believes the Mzinti clinic has a played a vital role in containing the spread. The food vouchers sent to Nkomazi have also ensured that pregnant women and families in the area continue to get nutritious food during this hard time.
“When patients get to the gate of Mzinti clinic, they are told to stand two metres away from each other and the guards sanitise their hands as they come in. Everyone is required to write their names when they enter so that should someone be found to be infected with COVID-19, the clinic can trace them easily. Also, only two people are allowed to sit on the five-seater benches; the clinic staff is really trying their best to keep the number of cases as low as possible. We are also happy that pregnant mothers have received vouchers to buy food. They are happy and so are we. I’ve also received mine and we are grateful for that as a community.”
Khoza’s advice to South Africans for coping with the lockdown and staying safe during this time is simple: obey the rules, eat healthy and stay at home. “I’d like to tell the community to avoid social media, and obey the lockdown laws that are in effect. People should also not buy things like cement, expensive clothes and furniture with the Social Relief of Distress grant; they should buy food instead because if their bodies are not nourished it can be easy for them to get ill. I urge them to eat foods that are high in Vitamin C during this time such as lemons, oranges and other citrus fruit as well as garlic. We’ve told mothers to buy oranges instead of yoghurt, for example, because of the Vitamin C content or to buy Vitamin C supplements for their children at pharmacies.
“We should just stay at home, let’s fight COVID-19. It will pass.”