By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s Ministry of Health (MoH) commenced its first local mass sample collection drive at Bakau School for Corona Virus testing. According to Kelepha Secka, a lab technician at the site the turnout was not as expected and they choose to commence testing at Bakau because “we have three cases that’s why we decided to do it at Bakau”. At around 4 pm on Sunday 3rd May 2020 I was informed that around 100 test samples were collected that day.
Close Contacts Refuse Corona Virus Test
A MoH Covid 19 report filed on 30th April highlighted that “most of the identified close contacts of the 12th case aren’t consenting to sample collection from them.” This raised a serious concern that close contact of positive contacts who refused to be tested were potentially spreading the infection knowingly or unknowingly.
Two days later, Saturday 2nd May 2020, the MoH released another report highlighting that 5 new cases had tested positive for Covid 19. In the evening another Press Release from the MoH Facebook page highlighted that a “mass sample collection exercise will be held on Sunday 3rd May 2020 at Bakau Community Center”.
To ensure that the people of Bakau went to get tested a community outreach was conducted informing people via a loudspeaker on the “mass sample collection” exercise. This prompted numerous concerns from people who insisted that the mass sample collection could gather a large crowd which could spread the disease further.
To get a first-hand experience of Covid 19 testing procedures and to ascertain if social distancing were being observed I visited the testing site on Sunday to ascertain what was happening in Bakau.
Journey to Bakau Corona Virus Sample Collection Site
On my way to Bakau School, I meet a young lady who joined the taxi I was travelling in. The lady appeared to be from Bakau as she joined the vehicle from around Marina School in Bakau. When I engaged her in conversation, she revealed that she hadn’t gone for testing and was not aware of any member of her compound that had been tested.
Upon hearing that I managed to convince her to go for testing the following day. This highlighted that people from Bakau are not that interested in getting tested. Earlier in the day, some rumours were being circulated that the Corona Virus test kits were from China, which could affect the turnout at Bakau.
Another subplot which is affecting Gambian commuters is the cost of transportation in The Gambia. An executive decision had compelled all commercial vehicles to carry half of their passenger capacity and in reaction, drivers increased their fares from D7 to 10 Dalasis. Although fuel prices have recently reduced significantly some drivers are still charging D10 instead of the usual D7.
Lab Technician 100 Test Samples Collected
Upon arrival at Bakau New Town School, I could observe that some level of social distancing was being observed, however, some younger people could be seen in groups next to adults at the testing site. Nonetheless, most people were observing social distancing and Mr Kelepha Secka, a lab technician informed me that the Security was at the site to enforce social distancing.
Mr Secka informed me that around 100 tests were conducted by 4 pm on Sunday and that the turnout wasn’t as expected. “We were expecting more than 100 because this area is highly populated. Although we are still taking samples, we still expect more people to come.” According to the technician the results should be ready within 48hrs and his team will be at Bakau New town School the following day to continue collecting samples.
Asked why the low turn out he said “maybe the lack of sensitisation is an issue but allot of sensitisation has been going around. We keep on sensitisation people maybe some people have not heard about this. We hope that before the end of the week they would have come to produce their sample.”
“Even when you dial 1025 you can have your sample collected for testing, jst call 1025. I’m encouraging everyone to come for testing especially in the Bakau area and this social distancing is very important. Use hand sanitizer to wash your hands that is very important.” Kelepha Secka, Lab Technician
Bakau Resident “Conspiracy Theories around test kits”
To get a clearer picture of why people of Bakau were not going for testing I contacted a resident named Alagie Manneh, a journalist with the Standard Newspaper. According to him “the turnout was dismal, it was poor. This is a community that is supposed to take this thing seriously.”
Speaking about a community outreach activity he witnessed Mr Manneh said that “the hate that greeted these officials [carrying out sensitisation], we have a lot of youth-led organisations who have been trying to mobilise the people to go and get tested. Some of them faced discrimination. They were called out and called names. These are people who are trying to help the community it was really sad.”
Asked why he thinks people are refusing to get tested he said that “we are having a lot of conspiracy theories. Allot of lies and rumours, conjectures are out there. Like other places, also in Bakau to there is this widespread.”
“Some people don’t believe that this Covid is real. I came into contact with a lot of them. They are not buying it they think the government is out to misappropriate public funds. That’s the bottom line. There should be a shift in the approach. Otherwise, this thing could be here with us for years.”
Asked if some of the rumours of test kits coming from China discouraged people from going, he explained that he “just spoke to someone who said the same thing, that these things [testing kits] are from China”. The person proceeded to show him a video where people were spitting on masks and Personal Protective Equipment.
Asked if a complete shutdown of Bakau was inevitable he responded that “I had an interview with Dr Rama Njie who explained that you can’t affect a shutdown when people don’t have basic needs, there could be chaos but this must not be ruled out. Shutdown could be our way out here if only Government would come forward and provide these people with the most basic necessities”.