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We’ve spent every coin we had in India and now can’t return home

 Wallace Kimani with his wife Cecilia Muthoni at the Artemis Hospital in India, where he has been undergoing Esophageal Cancer treatment. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Like a predatory spider that has span its intricate web around the globe, ensnaring billions, the coronavirus pandemic has literally brought the world to a standstill after causing the closures of national borders and airspace.

And now, like flies caught in this complex web, millions of people, among them Kenyans, have been rendered strangers in foreign lands. Among those who have fallen unwitting victims are patients who had flown thousands of miles to India in search of medical attention. 

The plight of these desperate patients is captured by the experiences of a retired primary school teacher and his wife who are stranded more than 5,600km away from home.

After spending more than 30 years sharpening minds and shaping the destiny of young scholars, Wallace Kimani hoped to spend his sunset years resting at home in tranquility. And so when he retired from Rugongo Primary School in Igwamiti, Laikipia County in June last year, he retreated to his home in Nyahururu town.

Fate, however, dealt him a cruel hand. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer. His life became a whirlwind of tours from one hospital to another. Doctors advised him to act quickly before it could be too late. The trips and consultations wiped all his life’s saving.

On January 7, Kimani flew out of Kenya to New Delhi, India. He was accompanied by his wife Cecilia Muthoni. ”After numerous fundraising, we were able to raise Sh1.5 million of the Sh2.5 million that was required by Artemis Hospital in Grugaon. The money was to cater for medication and accommodation.” Kimani told The Standard.

He expected to be in India for 12 weeks and hoped that somehow his family and friends back home would raise the balance before his treatment was over.

Some unforeseen complication, however, upset his plans. After six weeks of treatment he had to undergo an unscheduled operation, which did not obliterate the tumor. Kimani was forced to resume radiotherapy, which had been temporarily suspended.

These unforeseen hurdles coupled with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic have just complicated his already intricate condition. 

When Kimani talked to The Standard, India had just announced the extension of its lock-down for another 21 days. This means that country’s borders and airspace will remain closed. 

Kimani says he is much better than he was four months ago, but adds that he has not yet completed his medication. He has 10 more radiotherapy sessions to go and hopes all will be well.

Life in India

Kimani sums up what life in India as a cancer patient is like: “The lockdown has made things very difficult. There is no public transport and all businesses are closed. The only ones which are allowed to operate are outlets selling food. Life revolves around a hospital ward and being locked up in your room.”

Owing to his medical condition, the doctors have advised him to take a lot of proteins, which he had previously been getting from meat.

“It is impossible to get beef in India. I have been getting protein from mutton and chicken. Since the onset of the corona pandemic, these, too, have become scarce and very costly,” the retired teacher says.

His main worry now is what happens when he completes radiotherapy sessions on May 3. “I cannot afford to stay an additional day in India. It is costing me Sh2,000 every day to rent the house I stay in. This cost does not include food. Luckily, I live near the hospital so I walk there every day for my sessions.”

Even as the teacher hopes that in three weeks he will have healed, he has no idea where he will get the Sh700,000 balance he owes the hospital.

Although Kenya’s Foreign Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau acknowledged the plight of patients who are stranded in India when he gave the status report on Kenyans living abroad last week, he was noncommittal on how they could be assisted.

“Many patients and caretakers have been discharged, but are stranded due to cancellation of flights. Subsequently, many have overstayed their visas. Some have died, but their bodies cannot be brought home,” he said.

The teacher hopes by the time he is through with his medication, miracles will have happened.

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