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Pandemic Takes Toll on Kenya’s Medical Workers

Residents in Mombassa, Kenya, walk in front of informational murals painted on the side of an apartment block about the coronavirus and paying tribute to medical workers with the messages "We'll Protect You" and "We Salute You," Aug. 17, 2020.

John Muichuhio is one of the thousands of Kenyan medical workers treating COVID-19 patients.

The stress of the pandemic has been bearing down on him, and in late July he also tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

“As a human being I am also thinking around that if am positive for COVID, what will happen next? What if death comes? It's not easy," Muichuhio said. "It’s a very traumatizing state, especially being alone there. You cannot tell people because you don’t know how people will take it.”

The father of two is one or more than 700 Kenyan medical workers to test positive for the respiratory ailment.

Muichuhio, a trained psychologist, said he was so upset by the diagnosis, he had to seek counseling himself. He wasn’t alone.

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On an August weekend, 50 doctors from Tigoni Hospital treatment center attended mental wellness counseling sessions in Nairobi.

Mary Waweru was one of them. Waweru said she had to seek help after avoiding her family for months due to her work.

“I saw myself as a virus, I will go and infect my children infect my husband and even my mum and dad, so I detached completely," Waweru said. "So, there was one time my daughter waited for me at night, that day I got home at 11 p.m., so she asked me, ‘Mum, don’t you love us anymore?’ That was at 11 p.m. That was my punch line.”

Simon Njuguna, a public health officer, says he forgot about his mental needs.

“We have been going through a lot," Njuguna said. "The schedules have changed. We have been very busy, and so having a day off where you are having fun forgetting there is COVID. It’s very rejuvenating.”

Njeri Njuguna is a clinician at the Tigoni COVID Center.

“I feel a bit lighter," Njeri said. "I feel like I am very relieved. I feel like I have gained the strength to continue with my daily duties.”

Iregi Mwenja, the head of Kenya’s Psychiatric Disability Organization, was the organizer of the two-day mental health event.

“A lot of those small traumas end up piling up, and it can be really psychologically distressing, so we decided that we would come here and have a day of expressive therapy, debriefing art therapy, bonding and having fun and games," Mwenja said. "It was a day to make the health workers feel like they are loved and appreciated.”

Latest figures from the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases globally, indicate that Kenya currently has more than 36,150 confirmed coronavirus cases and 622 deaths.