My Ebola story: Kobugigi acquired Ebola from her granddaughter

Ms Verontina Kobugigi, a survivor of Ebola. She was admitted on September 21, 2022, and discharged on October 1, 2022, after fully recovering from the disease. PHOTO | ALEX ASHABA

What you need to know:

  • On January 11, the government declared an end to the Ebola virus outbreak that had emerged four months earlier and claimed 55 lives. In this second installment of our series, Ms Verontina Kobugigi shares how she contracted the disease and later managed to survive.

A week after she came into contact with a suspected Ebola patient, Ms Verontina Kobugigi, 61, was admitted to Mubende Regional Referral Hospital after developing signs and symptoms of the deadly disease. 
Ms Kobugigi is a resident of Kabarugi Village in Bugogo Town Council, Kyegegwa District. She was admitted on September 21, 2022, and discharged on October 1, 2022, after fully recovering from the disease.
On September 12, 2022, Ms Kobugigi says her eight-year-old granddaughter Deniz Kyomugisha was buried. Before her death, Kyomugisha, who had presented signs and symptoms of Ebola, had returned from Madudu Sub-county in Mubende District where she had been staying with her mother and siblings. Sadly, Kyomugisha’s mother also succumbed to Ebola.
 “It all started when they brought my granddaughter at home for medication, we took her to a traditional herbalist (Fabis Naturinda who unfortunately also succumbed to Ebola after she contracted it from her). She tried her best to treat her in vain; she was bleeding,”  Ms Kobugigi says.
“Later we decided to transfer her to Mubende hospital but she died on the way and her body was brought to my home for burial,” she adds.
One week after the burial, she developed fever and became weak. Her son Michael Rutabasiibwa also fell ill.
“After developing too much fever, my son also developed fever, I first used local herbs to treat myself but they failed to work, I tried tablets in vain and my condition worsened,” she says.
It is around that time, Ms Kobugigi says, that the Ministry of Health announced the outbreak of Ebola in Mubende District and that they were looking for contacts of those suspected to have the disease. On September 21, Ms Kobugigi was evacuated to Mubende hospital along with her son. 
She says was taken into the isolation ward where she spent two days without being attended to or receiving first aid from health workers. She says her condition worsened. 
Ms Kobugigi said a few days after later, her two grandchildren, whom she had left at home, were also evacuated to Mubende after developing signs and symptoms of Ebola but fortunately, all their tests turned negative.
On the third day, Ms Kobugigi says the doctors came and took samples from her and later put her on a drip of water mixed with drugs which gave her relief. However, she remained unwell and had no appetite for food.
“I would see my neighbors who were vomiting and doctors were trying to save their lives, doctors could not allow you to get out of your bed to talk to other patients. In case you wanted to talk to someone on another bed, you had to raise your voice and speak from your bed,” she says.
She adds that in the isolation room, their beds were separated by curtains and only doctors donned in personal protective gear were allowed to come closer to the patients. 
Patient’s attendants were also not allowed to come near the isolation room. The patients were served food prepared by the hospital and health workers. They were given meals in the morning, lunch time and evening. The food was good, she recalls, as they were given meals including groundnut stew, matooke and other foods.
Ms Kobugigi says she did not vomit but the fever remained high for some time.
“Doctors never told me directly that I was diagnosed with Ebola not until the last day when I saw my discharge form. When I remained in the isolation room for long, I came to know that I had the virus but I remained strong, I was attended to by many doctors. They could keep asking me how I was feeling, they gave me medication and care,” she says.
Ms Kobugigi believes what helped her recover quickly was the fact that she was admitted in the early days after she had contracted the disease. 
She believes if she had delayed at home, she would not have recovered.
“I was always praying while on my bed, but also, I had courage that I would recover. I thank the doctors who gave me treatment. From the day they started working on me, they were always checking on me until the day they came and took my last sample,” she says. 
She was tested about six times while she was in isolation. She was finally discharged when she had fully recovered. During the discharge, she was also asked to leave everything she had come with, at the hospital.
“All the clothes I went with to the hospital, I left there. The doctors gave me new clothes, mattress, bed sheets, towel, soap, bucket, and saucepans which I am using at home,” she says.
At the time she was leaving the hospital, she left her son, still admitted. He later recovered and was discharged.
But Ms Kobugigi she said for the first three weeks after being discharged, she kept feeling dizzy, and so she kept on treatment while at home.
In December, the officials from the Ministry of Health and other NGOs conducted a community meeting in Kakyido trading  centre with the aim of sensitising the community about the disease. It was much needed because Ms Kobugigi faced stigma when she got back home.
During the first week after she got back from the hospital, only two members of the community came to check on her. Others would greet her from a distance. However she had been advised not to mix with crowds when she was being discharged. Another of the things that bothered her was after returning from hospital, one of her grandchildren was not allowed in school for the first three weeks because she was “from the family that had an Ebola patient”. 
Ms Prisca Kyasimire, Ms Kobugigi’s daughter, says at the time her mother was admitted, she was staying in Kampala and later came to Kyegegwa when her daughter who was staying with her mother was admitted at Mubende hospital.
“When I heard that my mother was admitted, I came from Kampala and camped at Mubende hospital. I would not see them physically but I could keep asking the doctors about them. But good enough my child was negative,” she says.
Members of the district Ebola task force continued visiting Ms Kobugigi’s home to disinfect her house and monitor her.
“I am happy that my family members at home did not discriminate against me. We ate together but people in the community feared me. At first it was stigmatising, but later I got used to it and it all ended and now I interact with people,” she says.
Three NGOs (Baylor, Red Cross and Unicef) have since given her Shs300,000, a mattress, cooking oil and other items to use while at home.