John Stephen Salamuka, 68, the coordinator of Kamuli- Buyende people living with HIV/Aids, has lived with HIV for 38 years now.
Because he was aware that he was in a high risk category for those that might be badly affected by Covid-19, due to his advanced age and being an HIV patient with low immunity, he strictly followed the standard operating procedures (SOPs).
“I was always a strict observer of SOPs and was nicknamed Mr Mask as a hospital public educator and counsellor.
That I contracted and survived Covid-19 should be classified as a miracle and I am the highest beneficiary of God’s favour,” Salamuka says.
How he contracted Covid-19
Salamuka recalls that one hectic day, he conducted a health education session at the HIV/Aids ART Clinic.
Later, he conducted another health talk elsewhere on the rise of the number of Covid-19 patients in communities and the need to follow SOPs and double mask wearing in addition to hand washing.
By the time he got back to his office at the hospital, he was exhausted and took a cup of tea and snacks.
Since he was alone in the office, he lowered the mask below the mouth and started doing some work which involved looking for humanitarian assistance and medical supplies for HIV-patients during the lockdown.
Shortly after, a workmate walked in, looking very sick.
“A colleague came seriously feverish, coughing and then I realised that my mask was not well put. I was like a general who just doses off for a second and the enemy lurking around snatches his gun,” he says.
Two days later, he got a high fever which he thought was exhaustion and fatigue. He then got cough and soon after, joint pains.
As a seasoned counsellor, Salamuka felt terrible that he could have Covid-19. However, he realised that just as he had always counselled others, he too had to go for a Covid-19 test at the isolation Unit in Busota Health Centre, Kamuli Municipality. The results were positive.
“Guess what a high-risk patient went through in the first one hour of receiving the results. I had to gather all the psychological and mental skills needed to survive, which I had been telling others to have. Later, with colleagues, we got expert counselling from Rhites Regional Programme manager, Dr Lwebola and my allies in the HIV/Aids fight. I gained confidence and was advised to go for self-isolation and home-based care,” he narrates.
While in self-isolation Salamuka took Zinc, Vitamin C, Azithromycin and plenty of fluids ensuring they were not cold. He also sunbathed and steamed himself with concoctions of eucalyptus leaves, aloe vera and other plants. His children also gave him ginger, garlic, red pepper and lemon concoctions. He took whatever was availed to him as he did not want to take any chances. By the second week in isolation he had started improving.
“Though I took the concoctions, I wouldn’t for sure say they work, because one can overdose and have the effect of other diseases like ulcers so they should be taken in controlled measures,” he cautions.
Salamuka warns that Covid-19 is a bad disease: “It eats you up terribly, it pains a lot and is really deadly with people running away from you, causing stigma and making most patients die of worry than the disease itself.”
He believes his HIV/Aids disclosure experience prepared him well to face the Covid-19 sickness since they are similar in nature, saying most people die of worry when they are told they are positive.
“The moment they get results, fear creeps and overtakes them. They start thinking of death anytime, seeing delusions of graveyards,” he says.
At home Salamuka says he got great care from his wife Maria Alicetera Namugere who lived by more than the marriage vows of being with him in sickness and in health.
Namugere, he says gave him first class treatment and acted as a nurse. His three children all provided him with support by making calls to check on him, and sending financial and medical assistance. They would visit regularly and talk to him from a distance and he felt loved and cared for.
Salamuka says he is indebted to his wife and children for taking care of him.
“I have a real loving and caring wife. She never abandoned me even for a second and she also took the same treatment with me. My children almost risked their lives always coming around but at safe distance to give me reassurance, assistance and comfort. I felt close to people’s hearts more than ever before, which gave me mental healing and encouragement that things are not that bad,” he says.
Also, he says, many friends and perceived enemies alike kept him in high spirits with phone calls and words of encouragement reminding him to take heart and be positive.
He adds that some good things in a funny way, have come out of his experience.
“There have been villagers giving me a headache passing through my gardens and creating illegal paths in the backyard and compound. But when they found out I had Covid-19 they stopped using them! They have never used them since they knew of the sickness I had, for fear of getting Covid-19 themselves. So this has been the positive side of the illness to me. It has controlled trespassers!” he shares.
After he recovered and took a third test which came out negative, he went to his church to thank God for saving his life, and renewed his commitment to take on the calling and assignments to save lives.
“I was pronounced dead many times. They were surprised I was back healthy, happy and more determined to offer testimonies for adherence to SOPs and disclosure,” he recalls.
Salamuka, however, observes that Covid-19 has overshadowed other diseases such as HIV/Aids, measles, malaria, ulcers, high blood pressure and the government and NGOs are concentrating on only Covid-19.
He, therefore, makes a passionate appeal to these institutions to take keen interest in HIV patients who have the lowest immunity and are highly vulnerable in terms of food and essential drug supplies.
“People living with HIV/Aids need a special package and closer attention as they are a vulnerable and high-risk category. As of March this year, Kamuli General Hospital alone had 6,400 active HIV persons in the ART clinic records. We can trace where they are as we do follow-up for our colleagues so our contacts and homes are known,” he advocates for them.
Salamuka now uses any opportunity to talk about keeping safe, saying efforts towards preventive measures rather than curative ones are the best option and weapon in the Covid fight.
“From my health battle experience, home-based care, surveillance, self-isolation and clinical management is the key component the health system should focus on,” he says.
Salamuka concludes that like HIV/Aids, the first treatment is disclosure and adherence so once people accept to live with the disease, speak about it openly and seek the right health treatment, they can easily overcome it and survive.