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South African woman takes her own life in Kenyan quarantine

A South African woman took her own life at a quarantine center at the Kenya Industrial Training Institute in Nakuru, Kenya on Friday morning.

The woman allegedly hanged herself on the metallic bunk bed provided by the learning institution, which has been converted into a temporary quarantine center in response to the Covid-19 pandemic

The Mail & Guardian is not naming the woman until her family has been notified. Nakuru County Chief of Health Dr Kariuki Gichuki confirmed the incident, pledging to continue providing counselling for the people under quarantine.

The woman had appealed to public health authorities to allow her to self-quarantine at her house in a small town outside of Nairobi. This request was denied, and she was taken to the quarantine facility in Nakuru on Wednesday where she was scheduled to remain for 10 days.

According to sources close to the investigation, she begged to be transferred to a hotel, a request which was declined also.

Her body was discovered by a nurse who had come to monitor the temperature of quarantined individuals. According to a source, the nurse knocked on the door; when the nurse received no response, she sought the assistance of Kenyan athlete Samson Rutto, who was also forced into self-quarantine after flying in from France. Together they broke through the door to her cubicle.

“When they broke the door they found her dangling after creating a rope and tethering it to the metallic bed,” said the source.

On Thursday, the same South African woman allegedly left the hostels to beg for food from local residents. In a video that went viral in Kenya, she is seen explaining to a taxi driver that she had asked for permission to leave the compound for a stroll. However, the driver responded to her in Swahili, saying that what she was doing was very wrong.  It is alleged that later on, some residents had confronted her, asking her why she was deliberately spreading the disease. 

Others quarantined with her in the facility described her as a jovial and happy person who spent her time talking, running and conversing with them.

“The previous day she had even ordered something through Uber and had a very happy interaction with the driver for a few minutes. She spoke fluent Swahili and was always the one encouraging the rest of us who had just joined the facility. She, however, kept begging authorities to be allowed to self-quarantine at her house but they were adamant,” said one source.

Conditions at the Kenya Industrial Training Institute, a government-run facility, are reportedly deplorable. The facility is ill-prepared for the requirements of quarantine. It is managed by just three staff and basic security measures are yet to be put in place.

Sources told the M&G that the institution had proposed a daily fee of Ksh2900 (R490, US$29) which included a bed, dinner and tea served three times per day. This amount was unaffordable for most of the people in quarantine.

The self-quarantine residents slept on metallic beds on thin mattresses, with no proper bedding. There is no clean water supplied for drinking. They were not offered any necessities including soap, toothbrush or toothpaste.

In an earlier interview with the Daily Nation, Rutto had raised concerns that they were not receiving any food from the facility and that his room was filthy and poorly-ventilated. Rutto returned to Kenya earlier this week from India, where his event was cancelled. He flew home via France and Ethiopia, and was intercepted by authorities in a matatu  (minibus taxi) at Kibunjia on his way to his hometown in Eldoret on Tuesday and taken to the facility. 

At the institution, another source raised concern over the windows, claiming they were broken often, making it very chilly.

The quality of health care they are receiving is also questionable.

“These people only check our body temperature with a small gadget. Since yesterday [Thursday] no one has been offered food after we complained that it was expensive. No one is asking us anything. The silent treatment is pure emotional torture,” said one of the people in the facility.

“I hate this place. It’s like a prison cell. I am scared to death,” said another.

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Njeri Kimani
Njeri Kimani is a journalist based in Nakuru, Kenya.

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