‘I didn’t want to take coronavirus to Africa’

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Kem Senou Pavel Daryl is the first African to contract the virus in China
Kem Senou Pavel Daryl is the first African to contract the virus in China

When Kem Senou Pavel Daryl, a 21-year-old Cameroonian student living in the Chinese city of Jingzhou, contracted the coronavirus he had no intention of leaving China, even if that were possible.

“No matter what happens I don’t want to take the sickness back to Africa,” he said from his university dormitory, where he is now under a 14-day quarantine.

He was suffering from a fever, a dry cough, and flu-like symptoms.

When he became ill he thought of his time as a child in Cameroon when he contracted malaria. He feared the worse.

“When I was going to the hospital for the first time I was thinking about my death and how I thought it was going to happen,” he said.

For 13 days he remained in isolation in a local Chinese hospital. He was treated with antibiotics and drugs typically used to treat HIV patients. After two weeks of care he began to show signs of recovery.

The CT scan showed no trace of the illness. He became the first African person known to be infected with the deadly coronavirus and the first to recover. His medical care was covered by the Chinese state.

Pavel Daryl Kem Senou
Mr Senou says he did not want to take the disease to Africa
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Egypt has become the first country in Africa to confirm a case of the coronavirus. Health professionals warn that countries with weaker health systems may struggle to cope with a potential outbreak of the illness, which has led to more than 1,770 deaths and infected more than 72,000 people, mostly in China.

“I don’t want to go home before finishing studying. I think there is no need to return home because all hospital fees were taken care of by the Chinese government,” says Mr Senou.

To evacuate or not?

Since late January governments around the world, led by the US, began evacuating their citizens out of Wuhan and neighbouring cities.

But thousands of African students, workers and families, remain in lockdown across the central Hubei province – the outbreak began in the provincial capital Wuhan – and some think their governments should do more to help them.

“We are sons and daughters of Africa but Africa is not willing to come to our rescue when we need it the most,” says Tisiliyani Salima, a medical student at Tongji Medical University and president of the Zambian Wuhan student association.

For close to a month Ms Salima has been living in self-quarantine.

Time has begun to lose meaning for the 24-year old student. She spends her days sleeping and checking updates on Chinese social media apps.

She acts as the liaison between her embassy and the 186 Zambian students living under quarantine in Wuhan. Many worry about food safety, supplies, and lack information in a city that this week has seen an average of 100 deaths a day.

She watched other international classmates evacuated from the city while her countrymen and women were left behind.

“South of the Sahara most African countries have had a similar response,” says one student who agreed to talk under the condition of anonymity.

“Publicly or privately African countries say that China can handle the situation. But the situation is not under control. When you listen to the official response it tells you that the African countries do not want to offend China. We don’t have the bargaining power,” the student says.

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