Bishop Daniel Sabiti: My COVID-19 story or How I and my family faced social stigma due to my positive Covid status

Executive director of ESADER in Beni, DRC with
Bishop Daniel Sabiti
Anglican Bishop, Kamango Diocese, Beni, DRC

(Editor’s note: The Democratic Republic of Congo is plagued by violence, distrust of government, a devastating Ebola outbreak, and now Covid. The northeast region of DRC is the epicenter of much of the violence, highlighted earlier this year when rebels shot and killed the Italian ambassador to DRC and his bodyguard. The local NGO ESADR is promoting health, economic opportunity, and peace in North Kivu, and works closely with the Christian Coalition for Peace in DRC, which includes the Anglican Church and several faith-based NGOs. ESADER Director Albert Baliesiima arranged for this story.

DRC has struggled with several pandemics, including Ebola, measles, and now Covid. The response to the pandemic is handicapped by a health system that is poor and failing, rampant rumours, conspiracy theories that focus on Western exploitation, distrust of the government, and people frequently forced to flee from violence. The current struggle against Covid faces a combined lack of vaccines and distrust of the vaccines that are available. The subject of this story, Bishop Daniel Sabiti lives and serves at the center of this struggle in Beni, DRC. – DB)

Daniel Sabiti is 62 years old and married to Mrs Damali, and together they have been blessed with 3 children of whom one is a girl. The Bishop was enthroned as bishop of the Kamango diocese in the Anglican Church on the 31 January 2016 which is the opening date of the aforementioned diocese.

Kamango diocese is located in the east Beni region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is also one of the areas where ESADER has been working to support local communities in the rehabilitation of the war-affected schools and health facilities, as well as paying school fees for orphans and vulnerable children, and fighting against the Ebola outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic among others. Beni territory (North Kivu province) and Irumu territory (Ituri province) are areas where people have seriously been affected by the violence perpetrated by ADF rebels from Uganda. These rebels have been conducting systematic massacres since 2013 in an indescribable way: slaughtering people using machetes, axes, knives; burning houses, cars and lorries, and properties, looting and destroying health facilities, schools, kidnapping girls, children, and women and raping them and making them sex slaves and training them in islamo-terrorism-related ideology.

Bishop Sabiti writes: ‘‘The sad story started in December 2020 when I went to Kampala for medical checkup six months after I had recovered, by God grace, from a stroke. In January 2021 I felt sick and thought it was just my blood pressure problem. But instead of the blood pressure going high as usual, it was going low. This was coupled with cough, flu, fatigue, and breathlessness. My oxygen saturation dropped to 36%. I was taken unconscious to Kamango general hospital, which is managed by the Anglican Church, in order to be followed up by the nurses and medical doctors. I was put under oxygen therapy for at least eight days and the only respirator machine in the hospital. They kept me from dying. This meant that if there were other patients at the same hospital who needed to be attended to through the same apparatus during the time the doctors were using it for my breathing, those patients would not be attended to and they would
be left to die. All of sudden, I saw a team of doctors and nurses popping into my room and taking my blood sample. They were putting on protective clothing. I could not imagine they had taken a sample for a COVID test. In fact, the sample was sent to Beni general hospital at the COVID test center. After four days the results came back and confirmed I was COVID positive. I was not told the results immediately. Instead, the doctor said to me that they prefer taking me back to my home and following me up from there. But since a blood sample was taken from me, I realized that, except my wife and my children, all the health personnel, pastors, and relatives who were coming to visit me or to take care of me, were putting on masks…I felt there was something bad going on’.’

Bishop Sabiti was the third person to get COVID in the Kamango health zone, the first one was a soldier who died, the second was a worker of an international NGO who was transferred to Beni hospital for treatment and recovery. So far 14 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Kamango health zone of which 8 were treated at the hospital and 6 others in the community. Of the 14 cases, one died and 13 recovered.

‘‘Once at home, the doctor came to announce to me that I tested COVID positive. He started treating me with Chloroquine, erythromycin, and zinc. At home, I felt isolated and people who came to visit me were stopping at the veranda, avoiding getting into the house, and all of them were putting on masks. Only the diocesan secretary would have the courage to approach me. I recovered and blood samples were taken again from me, my wife, and my children and sent to Beni COVID center. We all tested negative. One day I went to collect my parcels at the border in Uganda side. On seeing me, each of the immigration officers of both sides (DRC and Uganda) rushed to put on their masks. I told them that I recovered from COVID-19 and that the last test was negative but they could hardly believe it. A few days after, one of my sons felt sick and was taken to Kamango hospital. He had malaria and he recovered. But whenever people could see him in town, they were avoiding meeting with him face to face and some could tell him from far that they heard he also got COVID -19 like his father. He felt embarrassed all the time and he decided to limit his outings…’’

Since then, Bishop Daniel Sabiti decided to fight against the stigma around COVID as well as the rumors related to COVID vaccines. He began sensitizing people through preaching, seminars, and meetings. Among the rumors leading people to be reluctant to take the vaccines are that the vaccines don’t work or are not safe, the vaccines are aiming to kill African people in order to reduce their numbers, vaccines will make you sick with COVID-19 and you will die, the vaccines that are sent to Africa are not the same that are used in the developed countries, even the vaccine given to presidents are not the same as given to ordinary African citizens, the vaccines will make you sterile, the vaccines were rushed and there hasn’t been enough testing, the vaccines are not safe for people with allergies, and more …

As of November 2021, Bishop Sabiti reports that seeing positive attitudes coming out in the community: people, who were avoiding him together with his family members, have resumed visiting them, collaborating again with them. A number of people are ready to get the COOVID vaccines but unfortunately, vaccines are not available yet in the area. One needs to travel to Beni town to get the vaccines, at around 85 km from Kamango through an unsecured road. He calls upon the government for vaccines available in the area.

Bishop Sabiti speaking with Mother’s Union about covid and vaccine.

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