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Batswana speak on COVID-19 anxiety and misery


The deadly COVID-19 contagion hit Botswana in early 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) proclaimed that the virus is spread through contact with infected persons and surfaces. Batswana from all districts, towns, cities and rural areas found themselves in dread mode when the first case of Coronavirus was first confirmed in the country.

At the time, Batswana had slight data about the virus. Some learned that frequent sanitization, masking up and keeping a social distance will help them evade contacting the COVID-19 virus. The government pooled these health safety tips on social media and other forms of communications such as radios and newspapers.

The question that lingered unrequited was: Are these memos able to reach those in rural settlements who live without social media, walkie-talkies or do not have mobile phones even. Even though COVID-19 was not severe in rural settings, this has since seen a drastic change and escalation in COVID-19 cases. The virus has entered poverty-stricken villages with no access to water, medical facilities and not even roads.

WeekendPost followed this particular issue and covered villages surrounding Kanye in the Southern District in a unique report. These villages include Ntlhantlhe, Magotlhwane, Ranaka, Lekgolobotlo, Moshana, Lotlhakane East and Molapowabojang.

These are small communities with fewer populations, but COVID-19 has since paraded in them and continue to claim more lives, precisely every day. The communities decry lack of clean water, nil communication from relevant authorities and failure by the government to come to their rescue. The situation seems to be taking a miserable course, as the government has been vocal about failing to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upon arrival at Ntlhantlhe village, two older women sat under a tree looking down and gloomy. It quickly hit off that it’s probably because of this pandemic, more so that there is no emotional support given to any patient. It gets worse when lives are lost, as families do not have time to mourn their loved ones.

“It’s regrettable for all of us in the village. We go to a funeral every week, which is emotionally straining, but it inculcates anxiety, especially among us, the old age. We have been vaccinated twice, but the young have not been vaccinated yet. These are age groups that are dying at alarming rates, in any case. We do not have anything to protect us except some of these traditional plants that are said to be able to help the body fight viruses,” said Seneo Radimo, a 78-year old woman.

COVID-19 is emotionally straining. As it is in Botswana, there are no psychologists available to help COVID-19 victims. Radimo told WeekendPost that, “Ga go na ope o re sidilang maikutlo. Ga re ise re bone ope a tla ko go rona a re sidila maikutlo. Re tshela fela ka lone letshogo. Re thusiwa ke baruti mo seromamoweng ba re balela ditemana.

“We do not have anyone to provide counselling during this crisis. No one has come to provide counselling, and we live with concern. It’s only pastors on radios who can preach for us and share words of hope with us.”

Mental Health Therapist at Botswana Network for Mental Health Lisa Fraser said there is a need to continue raising mental health awareness during the COVID-19 pandemic. She indicated that mental health was generally ignored in most parts of Africa, including Botswana, and necessary action was only taken when the situation worsened.

Fraser stressed that there were only a few mental health facilities to give the necessary support and highlighted issues of stigma against those affected.

Mental health research in Botswana: a semi-systematic scoping review conducted in 2020 says mental health policy was developed in 2003 to provide a framework for incorporating the mental health programme into general healthcare services.

Botswana has no national mental health research database, and to the best of our knowledge, the available literature on mental health research provides inadequate guidance to inform policy and practice.

The mental health aspects of HIV studied were depression, neurocognitive disorders, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in psychiatric patients, sexual behaviour and psychosocial issues.

Most studies were conducted in general hospital settings; only one was completed with psychiatric inpatients and found a high prevalence of HIV among female psychiatric inpatients.

The prevalence of depression in PLWHIV ranges from 25.3% to 48%, and men (31.4%) are more affected than women (25.3%). Factors associated with depression in women were low energy and limitations in role function, lower education, higher income and lack of control in sexual decision making. Similarly, factors associated with depression in men were being single, living in a rural area and engaging in intergenerational sex.

Psychosocial issues identified among adolescents with HIV in Botswana include behavioural problems (70%), family issues (58%) and HIV medication adherence (57%). A study on mental health stigma reported that patients with HIV and mental illness are stereotyped as dangerous and untrustworthy and are discriminated against.

Magotlhwane village’s COVID-19 anxiety is analogous to that of Ntlhatlhe. These are developing villages opposite each other. Phiri said in an interview that “Batho ba fedile. Ga gona sepe se eleng gore batho fa ba lwala ba se fiwa ko dipatela. Re kentilwe mme go setse ba bangwe ba e leng gore ga ba ise ba kentiwe. Banana ba fedile jaanong rona ga re itse gore re tlile go bolokwa ke bo mang.”

“People are dying. There is nothing that these people are given at the hospitals when they are in a critical state. We have been vaccinated, but not all of us. The young people are gone, and we don’t know who will be taking care of us.”

She, however, designated that young people are conscious of the COVID-19 virus. The fact remains, the youth are now becoming more affected than it was before. “We are concerned really about our lives, but more concern is about the young ones. What pains me more is that there is no help coming from anywhere when one family member is infected. We are kept home with no food, at times, no water.

In Ranaka, a village that lies along Ntlhantlhe-Kanye road, the clinic was full. COVID-19 patients were given chairs to sit and isolate in the sun. The nurse in charge believes that COVID-19 doesn’t become active when in contact with the sun. Some of these patients just received positive results, and the majority are children.

In an interview with one patient, Idah Bosa (53) applauded the villagers as they seem to comply better than those in Mogoditshane village. She said she was intrigued by seeing parents going to the clinic with their children for COVID-19 testing, which shows how much they prioritize health.

“I came to Ranaka because my daughter had lost her mother-in-law due to COVID-19. As you see me here today in the clinic, I came to test for the virus, and my results were positive. I wasn’t surprised to have been positive because my children tested positive before me, and since I live with them under the same roof, I knew at once that I needed to get tested right away. I am still doing very well, I have no complaints so far, but from here, I’ll be going to isolate myself.”

A woman who shares her life with Boiki Thakatswana was sitting under a tree hoping to see someone pass by her stall to purchase something. Her spuds were packed nicely on a table with no shades, except for one from the small tree that was not even good enough. She is a 40-year old Margaret Mogolwane.

The streets were empty. There was absolutely no movement in Lotlhakane East, only a few donkey carts from the village Jojo tank that supplies water on good days.

She added more salt to the wound as she told this publication that she is very troubled by how young people in the village portray offhand arrogance towards COVID-19. For these young folks, the ‘new normal’ doesn’t exist in their lexis. They still host get-togethers in what they call ‘private chillas.” At these sessions, young people have fun hysterically.

To her knowledge, only a few older people in the village have received their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, and she has never heard of the second dose since.

“We pray every day to hear that this pandemic is over because we cannot afford to lose our loved ones at this rate. The worst part of it is that we are even more afraid of attending their funerals in fear of contracting the virus. The fact that their bodies are no longer brought home to be seen for the last time when bidding them farewell is even agonizing.”

“As a street vendor, my business has also been affected by COVID-19. There is this belief that street vendors have COVID-19 as most people prefer buying from supermarkets and not from us. There are no job opportunities available. Companies no longer accept applications like before,” she added.


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