- Migrants recount perils of ageing through the COVID-19 pandemic
- Lament rising body-count among elderly health workers
Nobody presents as a fine corpse. Ask Olumide Ojo. The 19-year-old “will never get over” the image of his “very handsome grandpa” and roommate, Pa David, shrivelled and strapped to a stretcher en route the hospital. The 78-year-old wheezed for breath as he was wheeled into an ambulance, redolent of antiseptic, soon after it backed up their driveway in Brent, the United Kingdom (UK).
Grandpa David, a retired mental health worker, showed no symptom of the coronavirus a.k.a. COVID-19 until “it was too late.” He presented atypically: he was occasionally delirious, which was earlier diagnosed as a consequence of infection of unknown source and acute kidney injury.
However, two days before he died, he suffered diarrhoea and manifested acute respiratory symptoms and fever typical of COVID-19. His family called emergency health services.
Just before the ambulance drove off, Olumide caught a forlorn glimpse of his grandpa; his head flailed to the left, drooped over his torso, pale and shrunken. The 19-year-old took a hard stare, accepting everything, forgetting nothing.
“He was my best friend. I wished he would stand up and walk,” he said. But Grandpa David didn’t. He was declared dead en route the hospital. Olumide was denied access to the funeral. The teenager and his two siblings, Maggie, 13, and Lola, 10, stayed at home while their parents attended the “rushed, dreary affair,” according to their mother, Shola, the only surviving daughter of the deceased.
“People are dying every day. It is startling. I fear if solution is not found quickly, the nation (UK) will be in mourning for too long. It is gloomy. I am within the age range of the vulnerable and I fear for myself and others in my age group,” said Victoria Akinkugbe.
Akinkugbe, 72, is wary of her fate. According to her, news of the elderly’s vulnerability to COVID-19 is quite worrisome. Corroborating her, Florence Magbagbeola, a retired hospice nurse, stated that she had never been “this scared” in her life. The 74-year-old lamented the death of a childhood friend, with whom she operated an unregistered nursing home and crèche for unregistered (illegal) immigrant families in Peckham and Kent.
“Many of us older folk can’t even venture out of our homes. The pandemic has wrecked life as we knew it. The older you are, the more dangerous it becomes for you to move around. These are hard times.
“You stand the risk of catching the virus anywhere, even in the presumed comfort of your home. It’s riskier for the elderly who are health workers. They go out to fight the disease and save lives and many of them end up losing their lives.
“Recently, we heard about Eyitolami. She was just one of many Nigerian medical personnel that we have lost to COVID-19,” she said.
Until her death, Eyitolami Olaolorun, 60, worked at Wellington Hospital in St John’s Wood, a private hospital, where she cared for terminally ill children. However, she started displaying symptoms of COVID-19 in late March and died on April 16.
In a statement, her children said: “She was an excellent paediatric nurse. She was caring and compassionate towards all her patients and their families, so much so that some of them have become part of our extended family.
“Our mother meant the world to us, having sacrificed her best years raising four children on her own. She worked tirelessly to ensure we were loved, nurtured and educated.”
They added that the loss of their mother had left them “heartbroken.” Many more Nigerian families have been torn by grief at the demise of their loved ones.
A death toll of nearly 50,000 underlined Britain’s status as one of the worst-hit countries in a pandemic that has killed at least 345,400 worldwide; UK’s death toll presents a dire human cost that could define the premiership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and also the fate of several Nigerians living in the UK.
Of the casualties are several Nigerians, some of whom are health workers and of the elderly age bracket, like Olaolorun. For instance, Dr. Alfa Saadu, 68, a locum (part-time) physician and retired medical director at the Princess Alexandra hospital, died on March 31, at the Whittington Hospital in north London, of COVID-19 complications.
He had nearly 40 years’ experience working with the Ealing NHS trust and other hospitals in London, and at his demise, his son, Dani, said of him: “He was a very passionate man who cared about saving people.
“As soon as you spoke to him about medicine or what was happening with the NHS, his eyes would light up – he was very passionate. He was working part-time as a locum as he just could not fully retire. He just loved medicine so much. He worked for the NHS for nearly 40 years in different hospitals across London and he loved to lecture people in the world of medicine; he did so in the UK and Africa.”
Edmond Adedeji, 62, was a doctor at Great Western Hospital until his death, after testing positive for COVID-19. Adedeji was being cared for in the hospital’s intensive care unit at the time of his death.
Then there was Carol Jamabo, 56, a caregiver and mother of two, who reportedly died from COVID-19 complications. Jamabo, who worked as a caregiver at the Cherish Elderly Care in Bury, Greater Manchester, died in April after testing positive for COVID-19. Jamabo became ill at her home and was taken to hospital where she passed away.
Jamabo moved to the UK from Nigeria in the early 1990s and served as a healthcare worker for over 25 years, working for the prison service and as a National Health Service (NHS) administrator at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, NHS Foundation Trust in London.
Adekunle Enitan, 55, was an intensive care nurse at the William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, Kent, until his death on April 24. Enitan worked as an agency nurse for five years. The father of two, known to his colleagues as Ade, has been remembered by East Kent Hospitals foundation trust as a “kind and caring nurse, and a much-respected colleague.”
Onyenachi Obasi, 51, died on May 6 after spending five weeks on a ventilator. Until her demise, she worked as a nurse for 20 years and told her family it was her duty to help.
“In death, Obasi is fondly remembered as the ‘angel nurse’ who died from coronavirus while caring for patients afflicted by the disease. Her niece Ijeoma Uzoukwu, 30, said she had previously warned about a lack of personal protective equipment.
She said: “She was on the frontline, and from what we know, she wasn’t protected. I don’t know too much about it, but she did mention to my mum that she wasn’t protected properly. That’s all I know at the moment.’
Obasi, 51, is the latest healthcare hero to be named as the death toll of Britain’s health workers surpassed the 200 tally. She died five weeks after being placed on a ventilator at Queen’s Hospital, Romford. The mum-of-one, who had been living in Barking and Dagenham, had been working as a health visitor and nurse in Newham, east London, when she contracted the virus.
Living through the lockdown
There is no gainsaying more Nigerians, living in the UK, have become cautious of the virus. Speaking toThe Nation, Femi Olapade, a resident of Birmingham, west Midlands, which is one of the largest cities in the UK afflicted by the disease, lamented the hardship foisted on them by the pandemic.
“At the moment, the casualties are on the increase with a reported death of a frontline health worker. My fear at the moment is the rate of increase in the number of associated deaths as a result of complications from the virus. There are various challenges at the moment which includes the inability of the government to carry out full testing of people to ascertain carriers, and the shortage of PPE and also test locations,” he said.
At least 2,321 patients have died with the virus in Birmingham hospitals, while about 527 more people have died in care homes – a fraction of the 11,600 deaths so far recorded from coronavirus in care homes across the UK, figures suggest.
Communities from black and religious minority backgrounds, which make up around 26 per cent of Birmingham’s 842,000 residents, have been disproportionally affected by the virus, prompting a government investigation into the cause.
A study by N.H.S. England found that 16 per cent of coronavirus victims who died up to the week of April 17 came from ethnic minority backgrounds. And out of more than 100 health workers who have died from the virus, 63 per cent have been identified as from those backgrounds.
The official UK Government death toll increases daily thus fuelling speculation that nearly 50,000 people have died of COVID-19 across the country.
Through the dismal atmosphere, however, the Olapades seek to make the best of a stern situation. To “stay alive and kill boredom,” they have developed a routine “that works” for the family.
“We have lived in the UK for 16 years, and we are blessed with four boys aged 15, 12, 10 and 5 years. My wife works in the healthcare sector so she still goes to work. But because of the self isolation, my boys aren’t allowed out except the back garden. They are also given 30 minutes to ride their bicycles around our street, once a day.
“They usually spend the morning doing house chores and school work. The evening is spent on their Xbox or Play Station console games. Then we have our movie night with popcorn and juice from 8pm,” said Olapade.
“We try not to yield to the dreariness,” said Bola Odunbaku, a resident of Kent and single mother of three. “It’s an uphill task but we do what we can to live a normal life,” she said. A typical day for Odunbaku starts and ends in her kitchen. “I wake up and bake. Before COVID-19, I yearned for some time. Being an illegal immigrant, I got laid off even before the virus bit deep into the economy. Now, with so much time on my hands, I couldn’t just sit at home,” she said.
So, she started baking. “I got this cook book with confectionery menu. I am trying my hands at everything. Some, I get right. Some, I don’t. But me and my kids eat it all the same,” she said, adding that if she’s not cooking, she would be on her sofa watching movies,” she said.
For Seyi Akinsola, his greatest challenge is keeping his kids entertained. He said, “I have two teenage children. We know teenagers are very restless. But we have been devising all kind of ways to entertain ourselves. I have thought my youngest to play chess. We play monopoly, scrabble and my wife sometimes insists that we play Ludo, which the kids don’t find funny.”
For Akinsola, a typical day starts with a 40-minute walk with his wife through their Gloucester neighbourhood. “Then we settle to work. We have converted our sitting room to our office. We get the kids to join us as they are still going through online schooling,” he said.
A roadmap to ‘new normal’
The British government has issued a roadmap to ease COVID-19 restrictions in five phases. These phases were issued on a three-week review process through the following dates: Phase 1 – May 18; Phase 2 – June 8; Phase 3 – June 29; Phase 4 – July 20; Phase 5 – August 10. If coronavirus cases begin to increase, the government will revert to the restrictions set out in the previous stage. But that is in the long-run, in the short-run, charities highlight more crucial problems for the government to resolve.
They alleged, for instance, that older people are being “airbrushed” (edited) out of coronavirus figures in the UK. Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told a news medium recently that the daily figure was based on hospital deaths because “it’s accurate and quick.” Coffey’s claim lends credence to criticism that the UK’s official death toll only covers hospital casualties but not those in care homes, private residences and unregistered immigrant communities.
The figures prompted the charity Age UK to claim coronavirus is “running wild” in care homes for elderly people. “The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter,” said Caroline Abrahams, director of the charity, Age UK
“In London, everywhere is quiet. People go out but we observe strictly social distancing rules. The buses are no longer full. It is common to see only three passengers in a bus that normally carries 36 to 38 passengers.
“Bus entrances have been reduced to one because no one is allowed to enter through the driver’s side. The other entrances are totally cordoned off for safety purposes. To keep drivers safe, passengers are disallowed to pay for transport fare too. Journey to any distance is free at this time,” said Akinkugbe.
On another note, Akinsola said: “If the UK with perhaps one of the best healthcare systems in the world is struggling, you can imagine the calamity if the virus gets a grip in Nigeria.”
Akinsola’s fears aren’t far-fetched perhaps. As of June 3, about 11,166 cases had been confirmed, 3,329 cases had been discharged and 315 deaths had been recorded in 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Just recently, the Nigerian government sounded the alarm over fake COVID-19 test kits in circulation. But that is simply one of a slew of impediments to Nigeria’s battle against COVID-19.
President of the National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Abdurafiu Alanis Adeniji, lamented that over 2,000 Nigerian health care professionals, especially nurses and doctors, have tested positive for COVID-19 while about 15 health care professionals have lost their lives.
Even more worrisome is the fate of the Nigerian elderly exposed to the disease. Taiwo Ajiun, a nursing matron, argued that a large number of senior citizens are left out of intervention efforts.
“Many old people lack access to appropriate health facilities and palliatives. Many of them living in coastal communities, for instance, are totally ignored. More focus is accorded the cities, where bed space is limited to the privileged. Our senior citizens must be accommodated in health intervention too. Many of them are sorely disadvantaged and uncared for. They are more vulnerable to the disease,” she said.
But that’s one way to look at the situation. The flipside presents a conundrum. Just recently, an 82-year-old widow, who is also hypertensive, recovered from COVID-19 after receiving a nine-day treatment at the Isolation and Treatment Centre, Asubiaro, Osogbo, in Osun State. The octogenarian’s recovery from the virus beats the odds as elderly people with chronic diseases are the highest risk group, because most of the time, they are unable to recover from COVID-19, according to health experts.
From London to New York, Paris, and Moscow, the coronavirus has crippled economies and laid metropolises to waste. Worst hit are the elderly and indigent whose impoverishment and untimely deaths by COVID-19 cast shadows on large, dense cities. There are hopes, however, that the pandemic would thaw and weaken in ravage as the government and global health community intensify measures to curtail its spread.
Until then, the world, and UK-based Nigerians in particular, would continue to live in fear of the pandemic. (The Nation)