A boon or a bane of the monitoring device for COVID-19 patients?

ByLance T. Lee

Jan 15, 2021

KIGALI from Rwanda

When Japhet Gakuba, 38, tested positive for COVID-19 in December 2020, he felt relieved when told to quarantine himself and seek treatment at his home in Gasabo district, in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, instead of being confined to a hospital.

But before sending him back, authorities attached a watch as a tracking device to his arrest. Recounting his two-week experience with the tracking device, Gakuba said he sometimes felt traumatized to be monitored around the clock.

“The coronavirus is real and deadly. But it was more psychologically draining to find that someone was watching every moment of your life around the clock, ”said the former patient, who recovered from the pandemic after two weeks.

The Rwandan Ministry of Health has prescribed home care for some patients with COVID-19, but has made it compulsory for them to wear the monitoring device.

According to the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Rwanda has so far reported 10,316 infections with 133 deaths.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Gakuba said he found the experience of wearing a tracker during the period of isolation traumatic.

In early December 2020, he complained of coughs and headaches that could not be cured with the usual medication. After about a week of frequent coughing and headaches, the father of two decided to get tested for COVID-19.

“When I tested positive, I was given treatment and asked to isolate myself in the home care setting. It was then that a health official attached a tracking device to my left wrist so that he could monitor my movements, ”Gakuba explains.

“Fixing the device took a few minutes. The person who attached the device, which looked like a wristwatch, advised me not to try to remove it because those in charge of the control room would be alerted, ”he added.

He later found out that the tracker also had features to even detect his audio inputs and alert the control room if he had conversations with his family or when he tried to play indoor games.

“Every time I moved more than 50 meters from the isolation point, I would get a call warning me not to break the isolation,” Gakuba recalls.

Horrible experience

“It was a horrible experience wearing it day and night and knowing that I am being watched. It was a difficult and sometimes sickening time, ”he said.

Authorities ordered him to continue wearing it even while sleeping or showering. It would also receive a reminder to charge the device to keep it running.

The surveillance was carried out by Rwandan police personnel and a team of officials from the Rwandan task force, which was formed to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the East African country.

Feeling anxious to be watched, which at times drained him emotionally, Gakuba urged people to take COVID-19 seriously and adhere to precautions.

The tracker was removed from Gakuba’s wrist after medics visited him and tested him a second time, which was found to be negative.

“Receiving negative COVID-19 test results after weeks of isolation has been a great relief, an important milestone. This meant that I had to remove the tracker from my wrist. I felt relaxed, it was like finishing a big business, ”he says.

COVID-19 patients treated at home are advised to self-isolate and avoid contact with the people they live with.

Doctors, local leaders and community health workers are working together to make sure COVID patients receive treatment and stay isolated.

Dr Menelas Nkeshimana, chief of Covid-19 case management and coordinator of response activities in western Rwanda, said the tracking device system was introduced as part of a massive effort to ensure the safety of the population.

He said the idea behind the introduction of this device was for patients to receive care at home. Additionally, he said he was only attached to patients, who were suspected of failing to meet self-isolation standards.

“The tracking devices have been quite effective in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. It is not uncommon for you to find patients who might try to leave their quarantine site, ”Nkeshimana told Anadolu agency.

He said after noticing that patients did not meet social distancing standards at their homes, they were then evacuated to quarantine centers near their localities, where health workers monitored them and ensured that they don’t interact with people.

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