Kenyans keep off hospitals, self-medicate amid Covid-19


They fear hospitals might be contaminated and could expose them to the virus.

Wednesday July 01 2020

Temesi Weboko is asthmatic. The disease explodes when there is an extreme weather change, cold weather or when she’s exposed to a sharp smell.

When the cold weather crept in last month, she got sick. Although she did not have an attack, she felt weak and had a sore throat. On a normal day, this would make her go to hospital, but this time around she bought drugs from a chemist.

Weboko did not want to go to hospital for fear of contracting Covid-19. “I went to a chemist and explained to the pharmacist how I was feeling. The pharmacist gave me a Ventolin injection and gave me Flucloxacillin capsules for my sore throat,” she says.

This is the trend most Kenyans are now adopting during this pandemic, fearing hospitals might be contaminated and could expose them to the virus.

Like Weboko, when Loice Owendo got sick she chose to keep off hospitals. She says she caught what she thought was a common cold last week. She made a concoction of garlic, lemon and ginger to suppress the cold. Luckily, her concoction worked. Had it not been for Covid-19, she would have gone to hospital. “I do not like hospitals, but I choose to go because I can save the cash when my medical cover is used.” Owendo also feared the stigma that has resulted from Covid-19. “All my cold-like symptoms were almost similar to those of a Covid-19 patient. I imagined being quarantined just because of such symptoms, yet I have no travel history and I have been indoors since the first case was announced,” she says.

An article published by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board has a warning on self-medication. “Whereas self- medication may result in faster access to medicine and offer relief to patients, it is not a completely safe practice and there are risks that can arise from it,” says the article.

Dr Sam Oula, chief executive Guru Nanak Hospital and consultant paediatrician, says self-medication has its downside, one of which could be side effects from the drug prescription. “The problem with self-medication is that some drugs have side effects that may not be obvious to all patients,” says Dr Oula. “The go-to place for drugs is a chemist. But, some of the people who sell drugs in a chemist are not qualified pharmacists. They are business people who are looking at driving sales.”

He urges those who feel unwell to consult a doctor beforehand. “In the event that one needs medical attention at this time, if they are not in bad shape, I encourage them to call their doctor who can advise on the way forward,” says Dr Oula. He urges people to take advantage of any helpful online platform that can help them avoid contracting coronavirus. “Tele-medicine is an option that people can explore now, but since most hospitals do not have that option, calling in could work perfectly,” he adds.