The problem with COVID-19

I didn’t want to write about COVID-19 because unless you’ve been hiding underneath a rock, or are on Big Brother Germany, you will have read at least half an article…or more on this disease that has for the time being, changed the way we connect with each other.

Just in case you have no idea what COVID-19 is and why it’s called COVID-19, here’s a short-as-it-can-be, summary. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, a.k.a. SARS-CoV-2 is the causative agent for COVID-19. The virus is genetically similar but different, to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003. Coronaviruses are so named because microscopically, these viruses have a spiky edge that looks like a crown. Coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19 is a therefore the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The virus is responsible for causing respiratory illness with symptoms identical to the flu such as a cough, fever and in more severe cases, pneumonia. As of today, the most affected country second to China where it was discovered, is Italy. In addition to this, as scientists learn more about this virus, a few things have been established:

1. While there is no vaccine, the global population will have to practice responsible methods of isolation and quarantine in order to minimize the spread of the disease.

2. The most at risk groups are the elderly and individuals with a compromised immune system. Therefore the measures that we take now are not just to protect ourselves but to protect a population of people with underlying immune illnesses who may only find this out in the midst of this pandemic.

When I first heard of COVID-19, I had to repeat to myself countless times, ‘do not panic.’ As the disease started to spread throughout Europe, I felt paranoia and anxiety creeping in as I thought about my husband who lives in the U.K. My anxiety levels were not helped by the the fact that in 2 weeks my husband was due to fly to South Africa. Prior to the president of South Africa announcing travel bans, I woke up on most days with a sick feeling in my stomach. The closer the disease got to South Africa, the more anxious I felt. Not necessarily because of the effect it would have on me, but the effect it could have on my parents, the effect it could have on a very large portion of the South Africa population who have a co-infection of HIV and the respiratory illness that IS the leading cause of death in South Africa, TB. At 29, (soon to be 30) I’m on the lower end of the spectrum but my social recklessness could lead to someone who isn’t in the low-risk category potentially contracting an illness that could be detrimental.

I am appalled at how people are increasingly revealing the inner racist/xenophobic moron (soz there’s no other word) that lives in them. In the early days of the virus, I saw a post on FaceBook illustrating Chinese people locked in a cage, while being laughed at by animals. Recently with Donald Trump referring to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’, I am realising that common sense, and intelligence is really not that common after all. There is a time and place to advocate for animal rights and the legislation that should be there to protect them. There is a time and place for lighthearted joking. When a disease has a death rate of ~3.6% with severe illness in 16% of all cases, you’ve got to activate the switch in your brain that rings loudly to tell you that NOW IS NOT THE TIME!!!

The problem with COVID-19 isn’t that we haven’t found a vaccine for it. The problem with COVID-19 is that people are using a global crisis to spew out the vitriol that is embedded in their hearts. If you’re wondering whether there is ever a time to be a racist moron…guess what? There never was a time. Furthermore, if I catch you on MY timeline spreading your moronic behaviour, I will not hesitate in reporting you, and then swiftly proceed to block you! If you have to ask yourself whether a post may be received as racist…it probably is!

As we are called on by leaders in our countries to exercise social responsibility, it is important that we heed to the measures being put into place. What does social responsibility look like? I’m glad you asked! Social responsibility means washing your hands due to the amazing ability (some people are only discovering now), that soap has to destroy the lipid layer of the virus, thereby preventing infection. Social responsibility looks a lot like coughing or sneezing into your bent elbow because COVID-19 can be present in the small liquid droplets released when someone coughs or sneezes, which may contain infectious virus material. If you’re on the receiving end of someone coughing in an uncouth way, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease. Social responsibility looks A LOT like giving a damn not just because of how it can affect you, BUT most importantly the effect that your actions could have on others, and in the grand scheme of things, the economy. We are ALL responsible for what the world will look like post COVID-19.

As we tackle this pandemic, the spread of fake news cannot be ignored. My advice: IF you’re going to read anything, go to reputable sources: The World Health Organization, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and in South Africa, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD). For the love of all things holy, stop reading articles from unreliable sources, stop using this pandemic as a reason for your racist illiterate traits. And please, listen to the people with the science degrees who ACTUALLY know what they’re talking about!

References:

Baud D, Qi X, Nielsen-Saines K et al. Real estimates of mortality following COVID-19 infection. The Lancet Infectious Diseases (2020)

Guan W, Ni Z, Hu Y et al. Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. The New England Journal of Medicine (2020)

Ng O, Marimuthu K, Chia P et al. SARS-CoV-2 Infection among Travelers Returning from Wuhan, China. The New England Journal of Medicine (2020)

World Health Organization. Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV): situation report – 12. February 2020 (https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200201-sitrep-12-ncov.pdf?sfvrsn=273c5d35_2. opens in new tab).

Black, Fat & Living with HIV

I apologise for the click baity title however I am hoping that if you clicked on the link, you’ll stay and read this post.

I have set for myself a target to run a marathon…forty two kilometres (yikes!!!) in order to raise funds for POWA, an organisation that helps & empowers women who have been abused, as well as an organisation supporting those living with HIV. I have been in contact with a very special charity and once they have confirmed their participation in this, I promise to give you guys ALL the juicy details and the why behind this. I was on Facebook this afternoon and read a piece posted by the South African HIV Clinicians Society on how obesity and HIV are linked.

As a black woman I am all too aware of how unpopular exercise is in my community. Yes we have Serena Jameka Williams 🎾 but on a smaller scale, black women have very few role models motivating them to shift the weights at the gym/box (if you CrossFit).

The rise of ‘thic’ being in, as well as the very unnecessary butt shots, has led to very unhealthy behaviour gaining momentum and thriving at such a rate that globally obesity is on the rise. Until this article I was completely oblivious to the fact that women living with HIV experience the weight stigma in a different way.

Things you might have known: South Africa has the largest HIV population globally, in addition to that, it also holds the record for the most obese and overweight nation on the African continent. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist 👩🏾‍🔬 to figure out that people living with HIV (PLWHA) need to take control of as many health markers as they can, nutrition and physical exercise being the most important ones.

People living with HIV need to ensure that they remain as physically fit as possible.However, due to weight loss stigmas predominately in the black community where thin = sick, clinicians are now faced with treating patients who are living with HIV and also overweight. With just 6 months of 2019 left, and as much as I hate to be a Debby downer, the reality is that time is running out towards achieving the 90-90-90 targets set by the UN towards eliminating HIV. Recommendations are to diagnose, treat and achieve viral suppression in 90% of people diagnosed with HIV. In my opinion, the solution lies not in the development of new treatment therapies, or even new antiretroviral drugs (although those are great too,) but rather in attacking the various cultural stigmas that prevent people (especially women) from getting tested and treated for HIV. In my eyes & experience as a budding researching in HIV, the problem lies mainly in getting people to accept that they are infected and this can only happen through more awareness and education of what HIV is, and a vast improvement in the access to health facilities particularly for those living in areas that are isolated and far removed from clinics and/or hospitals.

Isolation, stigma and a lack of support are still haunting black women living with HIV/AIDS, and now it seems so is obesity. As a black woman working in the field of HIV research, this has increasingly become something that I cannot ignore. Ensuring that no one gets left behind, has now become my cross to bear. It’s your cross to bear too. We’re all in this together!