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Home / Health & Science

The blind more likely to get virus as they rely on touch

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy DANIEL CHEGE | Tue,Nov 10 2020 11:00:00 EAT
By DANIEL CHEGE | Tue,Nov 10 2020 11:00:00 EAT

Since the country registered its first Covid-19 case in March, Rebecca Gema, 48, a visually impaired timber merchant and bar owner in Nakuru County, has been disturbed.

For Gema, the Covid-19 crisis is a double ordeal; first, she had to close down her businesses due to dwindling sales, and secondly, she cannot freely move out of her house in Shabaab Estate.

“I cannot keep social distance and avoid touching surfaces when I am outside the house.”

When The Standard visited the mother of three at her home on Tuesday afternoon, she was apprehensive about our presence and was not sure how to treat us.

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“Are they wearing masks? Please make sure they maintain social distance. And check their identification cards,” she shouted orders to her teenage daughter.

Grim picture

Gema’s anxiety paints a grim picture of what people living with special needs have to endure because of Covid-19.

“I rely on my daughter on almost everything I do. That puts me at a higher risk of contracting the virus since I cannot observe social distancing,” she said, as her daughter led us into the house.

“Since I have no sense of sight, the sense of touch and instincts are my only guide,” she said.

As a visually impaired person, Gema must cling to surfaces to find body balance when performing ordinarily simple tasks such as going up or down staircases and boarding vehicles.

The businesswoman fears she might also contract the corona virus from well wishers helping her cross the road or perform other day to day tasks.

Revelations by Ministry of Health that seven of 10 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in the country are asymptomatic is another scare for her.

Seeking help from volunteers in town, or having a caregiver accompanying her most of the time means foregoing the social distancing regulation. “I prefer staying indoors and rely on my daughter for upkeep and to move around. My business will have to wait for now,” she said.

Six years ago, Gema lost her sight as a result of meningitis. She became blind in a span of weeks.

“What I suspected to be malaria turned out to be meningitis. Between late September and early October, 2019, I was completely blind and the doctor told me it was permanent,” she said.

The famous Cabinet Secretary Health Mutahi Kagwe’s words, “If we continue to behave normally, this disease (Covid-19) will treat us abnormally,” always ring in her mind each day she wakes up, eats, walks and interacts with both her family and friends, said Gema.

Nelson Osango, a quantity surveyor, is another visually impaired person who has been greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Feel presence

Osango, a resident of Kaptembwo Estate, has to share what is provided by his uncle, a boda boda operator, with his five cousins and sister-in-law, who is also his caregiver.

He revealed that the visually impaired need to touch friends and family to feel their presence.

“We need to touch our families and friends to feel their pain, happiness, sadness, anger and fury. We no longer have that luxury,” said Osango.

And 58-year-old Margaret Wangari is a worried daughter as she takes care of her century-old mother Wangu Giteri.

Giteri had a stroke and as a result, lost her sight in February 2014. She has been blind since, and is also partially deaf. 

“Mother said it was risky and refused to be operated on. I had no choice but to live with her at my house in Rhonda Quarry,” said Wangari. 

Wangari hawks fruits to provide for her mother, her daughter and herself. 

With the pandemic, she feels that it is a matter of time before she gets infected with the coronavirus. However, she has no option but to keep at it, even as she feels that she is a threat to her mother’s health.

“I cannot avoid working because I need to feed myself and my mother. If I get infected, my mother and I will be in danger,” she said.

Anderson Gitonga, Executive Director of United Disabled Persons of Kenya, said the pandemic has affected the visually impaired more than other people with special needs.

“They are at risk because some of their guides are not relatives, especially those people who work in urban areas,” said Gitonga.

He said to the visually impaired, the sense of touch replaces the eyes as they use the hands to find their way and identify objects.

“Although touching exposes the blind to dangers, they cannot avoid it,” he said.

The director said the visually impaired might lose the connection they get when hugging and embracing their children, parents and siblings.

“We use audio to create awareness, partner with other organisations and lobby the State to ensure they include people with disabilities in their plan,” he said.

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