Rwanda: Tracker device boon or bane for COVID-19 patients?

Patients believe while COVID-19 is real and deadly, getting monitored round the clock is psychologically draining

James Tasamba  | 15.01.2021 - Update : 15.01.2021
Rwanda: Tracker device boon or bane for COVID-19 patients?

KIGALI, Rwanda

When Japhet Gakuba, 38, was detected COVID-19 positive in December 2020, he felt relieved when told to quarantine and take treatment at his home in Gasabo district in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, instead of getting confined to a hospital.

But before discharging him, authorities attached a watch like a tracker device to his wrest. Narrating his two-week-long experience with the tracker device, Gakuba said he at times felt traumatized that he was being monitored round the clock.

“Coronavirus is real and deadly. But it was more psychologically draining to find that someone was monitoring your every moment round the clock,” said the former patient, who recovered from the pandemic after two weeks.

Rwandan Health Ministry prescribed home-based care for some COVID-19 patients but made it mandatory for them to wear the tracker device.

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

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

In early December 2020, he complained of cough and headache which could not be healed by the usual medicines. After a week or so of frequent cough and headache, the father of two decided to take a COVID-19 test.

“When I tested positive I was given treatment and instructed to isolate under home-based care. It was then that a health official attached a tracker device on my left wrist so they can monitor my movements,” says Gakuba.

“Attaching the device took a few minutes. The person who attached the device, which was like a wristwatch advised me not to try to take it off because officials at the control room would get alerted,” he added.

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

“Whenever I moved beyond 50 meters from the isolation spot, I received a call warning me against breaching the isolation,” recalled Gakuba.

Horrible experience

“It was a horrible experience wearing it day and night and to know that I am being monitored. It was a difficult period and sometimes sickening,” he said.

The authorities had directed him to continue wearing it even in sleep or during the shower. He would also receive a reminder to charge the device so it remains functioning.

The monitoring was done by Rwandan police personnel, and a team of officials belonging to Rwanda’s task force, which was raised to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the East African country.

Feeling anxious at being monitored, which at times drained him emotionally, Gakuba asked people to take COVID-19 seriously and adhere to precautions.

The tracker was removed from Gakuba’s wrist after medics visited and tested him for a second time which came out negative.

“Receiving negative COVID-19 test results after weeks of isolation was a great relief, a milestone. It meant I was to have the tracker removed from my wrist. I felt relaxed, it was like one finishing a great undertaking,” he says.

COVID-19 patients treated at their homes are advised to isolate themselves and avoid any contact with the people they live with.

Medics, local leaders, and community health workers work together to ensure COVID-patients receive treatment and also that they remain in isolation.

Dr. Menelas Nkeshimana, the head of Covid-19 case management and coordinator of the response activities in western Rwanda, said the tracker device system was introduced as part of a massive effort to keep the population as safe as possible.

He said the idea behind introducing this device was that patients receive care at their homes. Further, he said it was attached to only those patients, whom it was suspected would not comply with self-isolation norms.

“The track devices have been quite effective in mitigating the spread of coronavirus. It is not rare that you find some patients who might attempt to leave their quarantine site,” Nkeshimana told Anadolu Agency.

He said when it was noticed that patients were not adhering to the social distancing norms at their homes, then they were evacuated to quarantine centers near their localities, where health personnel monitored them and ensured they do not interact with people.

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