KNCV Executive Director Mustapha Gidado: “Positive COVID test made me anxious”

COVID19 is affecting us all, personally and professionally. Doctors, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts have also become infected and fallen ill. Mustapha Gidado, director of KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, tested positive for COVID19 while visiting family in Nigeria. Gidado: “It is a terrible experience, and one which is unfortunately only too familiar in tuberculosis control. The positive test made me terribly anxious.”

Gidado: “I want to share my experience from Nigeria, as in some countries there is still very little awareness about the true scale and impact of COVID19. People are not well informed and that has terrible consequences. Good quality care cannot be provided everywhere and only the most serious COVID patients are admitted to the hospital. Oxygen is not readily available for everyone. Meanwhile, rioters have been destroying cities in protest against the lockdown measures. It is extremely important that we prevent this wherever possible. Sharing our own experiences is vital to ensure that the reality of the situation is clear for all to see.

Keeping your distance, disinfecting hands, wearing masks, it all contributes to containing the virus. But like tuberculosis (TB), COVID19 cannot be completely avoided. Anyone can get infected and it is sometimes impossible to find out where the infection took place. This also applies in my case. I have no idea where I contracted it. I took a COVID test before flying from the Netherlands to my native country of Nigeria (Gidado works at the Tuberculosis Foundation office in The Hague, ed.). The test was negative. In Nigeria it is mandatory to take a test one week after arriving in the country. This time the test was positive.

Short of breath and tired 

Initially, I didn’t believe the result as I had no COVID symptoms. In order to get a second opinion, I did another test at a different test location but it was also positive. I was prescribed a mountain of medication and had to go into complete isolation. Anxiety seized me. My immediate family was back in the Netherlands and I hadn’t even seen my family whom I was planning to visit in Nigeria. I locked myself in a colleague’s house. I became a little short of breath and very tired, but most of all I was very anxious about becoming sicker. Around the same time, two of my mentors in Nigeria sadly passed away, from COVID19. Both men were in their seventies, but still healthy and active. This was devastating news.

The fear that I felt on receiving a positive COVID diagnosis, was the same fear that I frequently witnessed as a doctor amongst my patients after becoming diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB).

Any disease with a potentially fatal outcome rightly induces panic. Even though TB ​​is now a curable disease, it is sadly not always a foregone conclusion. TB still accounts for 1.4 million deaths every year. People must get tested on time and receive the right treatment together with adequate and expert support. As with COVID19 patients, alertness for psychological effects and mental health support is critical.

Thankfully my condition didn’t worsen. After twelve days in quarantine, I was allowed out again and my following test was negative. I was able to visit my mother for one day before returning to the Netherlands. It was only when I arrived home that I told my wife and children. I didn’t want to worry them unnecessarily. Being so far apart would almost certainly have caused more concern. My wife, who was angry at first, was eventually grateful that I had not informed her.

The fight continues

I am immensely grateful that I was spared any severe symptoms. For numerous others this is sadly not the case, as well as those who still have a long recovery ahead of them.

I have great admiration for all colleagues worldwide who are personally and/or through their work affected by COVID19, but who remain as committed as possible. Together we will continue to fight for a world free of infectious diseases. Whether it is TB, HIV, COVID19 or any other disease, all test results must become negative. In this regard, the support of our donors and partners is indispensable and for this I am also incredibly grateful. Together we must stop the human suffering that these terrible diseases cause to millions of people. There is no time to waste.”

KNCV has been fighting TB since its establishment in 1903. Over the past 120 years, the organization has acquired indispensable knowledge and experience in the field of effective TB prevention and care, resulting in pre-elimination in the Netherlands and significant contributions to global evidence generation, policy development and TB program implementation worldwide.

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