Hauwa’u Yakubu’s name was leaked as the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Plateau State. After three weeks in isolation, she was released without showing any symptom but she has returned to a world in which she is being stigmatized over a disease she thinks she never had.
On April 17, a team of National Centre for Disease Control and Plateau State Government officials drove into the Dogon Karfe area of Jos, the capital. They came for a certain Hauwa’u Yakubu, who was completely oblivious as to why they had come for her.
Apparently, Hauwa’u, 20, a secondary school leaver and tailor had just returned from Kano, where she had attended a relative’s wedding. But Kano already had an outbreak of COVID-19, which by the time had reached community transmission level, and it was based on this that they came for Hauwa’u to collect her samples for tests and to put her in isolation.
By April 23, when those test results came back as positive and were made public, Hauwa’u life would change in ways she had not imagined before. She became the Plateau State COVID-19 index case.
The news threw the state into some confusion and Hauwa’u suddenly became the subject of gossips and insults for allegedly bringing coronavirus to the state. Insults for allegedly travelling, upon her return from Kano, to Yelwa and Gindiri to see relatives and inadvertently spread the infection.
“Immediately I arrived Jos [from Kano] on April 17, I was picked up by government officials even before I entered the house,” Hauwa’u said. “I didn’t spend much time on my arrival before I was picked up, not to talk about travelling to Gindiri and Yelwa. In fact, I have never known the two places mentioned in my life.”
She has been deeply hurt by the information spread about her, which have left her stigmatized, even now that she had been cleared. She believes those behind the rumours are mischief-makers.
But how did she come to be in this situation?
“When I arrived Jos at about 4 pm, some people within the community informed NCDC that I had arrived from Kano and I had seen COVID-19 patients and had interactions with them. That story is fabricated. I hadn’t interacted with COVID-19 patients,” she said.
Whatever the case, on the strength of that information the team arrived to pick her up. She was first taken to an isolation centre in Hipang, in Barikin Ladi LGA, where she spent a week. It was there that her sample was first taken for tests. She received news of the test results on social media.
The Plateau State government said it was investigating the “unprofessional” leak of information.
“Plateau State Government is investigating the circumstances surrounding the leak of the confidential laboratory result of some suspected COVID-19 cases carried out at the National Veterinary Research Institute Testing Centre in Vom which has been circulating in the social media,” Dan Manjang, the commissioner of information and communication said in an April 25 statement.
The leak, however, baffled Hauwa’u and her family as even though it was her name, the picture that made the rounds on social media was not hers. That gave her some false hope that perhaps she was not the person in question.
After a week at Hipang, Hauwa’u was moved to another isolation centre at Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH), where she spent almost two weeks.
“Since the time I was picked up from home to the time I was discharged and brought back home, I was asymptomatic,” she said. “There was no sign of coronavirus in my body if what we see on TV and hear on the radio are the symptoms of the disease. All I know is that even before the incident, I have ulcer and that has been my health problem for some years.”
In her three weeks in isolation, she was only administered with a dose of chloroquine on one occasion. She doubts she actually tested positive for the virus.
Now though, her business and social life have been affected by the stigma of the whole episode.
“My customers are running away from me now because of the news that I tested positive for coronavirus. Since I came back from Kano, nobody has come for my service,” she said. “But I thank God that I have been cleared. All I know is that I am healthy and have left everything to Allah.”
Her paternal grandmother, Adama Muhammad, who stays with her is saddened by the damage done to her granddaughter.
“I am not happy because some people have lied against my granddaughter which has spoiled her name,” she said. “Her customers have ran away from her. Hauwa’u is a good tailor and has been assisting the family from what she earns but this incident has made everything difficult for her now because of stigmatization.”
She said the stigmatization has extended to other members of the family and blames the leak and called it a “blackmail meant to tarnish the image of our family.”
On rumours on social media that the state government had given the family N150,000, to calm them down, the grandmother said, “We haven’t received any cash or item from anybody. They brought her back home without anything. That story is not true.”
Despite the stigmatisation, the grandmother said the family is happy with Hauwa’u’s return, adding that she was embraced by all and sundry and wished her success and prosperity in her future endeavours.
A youth leader at Dogon Karfe, Muhammed Shugaba, who spoke on behalf of the community described the development as an unethical and unprofessional from some officials at the NVRI, from where the leak occurred.
“Leaking the result to the public is unacceptable to us and we will never accept it. Thus, we demand an explanation on this embarrassment and public defamation of character of the community and our daughter whose confidentiality was bridged.
“The situation seems to be politically influenced. We, therefore, as a community, demand a public apology and immediate investigation into the circumstances that led to this unwarranted and unacceptable situation from the state taskforce on COVID-19. We will not be deterred to initiate legal proceedings in the matter is not addressed properly, “ he said.
Contacted on how far the government has gone with the investigation, the state commissioner of health, Nimkong Larndam told Daily Trust that investigation is ongoing.
“Those who worked on the sample are currently being investigated. However, nobody has admitted to leaking the results but we must get to the button of the matter. We have handed the case over to an expert body. We have involved the security in the matter. They have gone far and we are just waiting for them to submit their reports,” the commissioner said.
The family and the community are waiting to see how those responsible for the leak would be punished as the government said but for Hauwa’u, the journey to regaining her image is going to be long and slow.