Mr Kapil Narain conducting COVID-19 tests in the heart of the Inanda community in Durban.

Medical Student at the Frontline of COVID-19

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Final-year Medical student, Mr Kapil Narain, has served at the frontline of COVID-19 by conducting community testing for the past five weeks.

His efforts are part of the government’s ambitious community screening and testing programme – an unprecedented and proactive response involving the deployment of community health workers (CHWs) to undertake door-to-door testing. President Ramaphosa announced the mobilisation of almost 60 000 CHWs across the country to drastically ramp up testing.

‘Having some medical training, I could not bear witness to the destruction of COVID-19. Amidst an intensifying pandemic that has overwhelmed health systems and healthcare workers, I felt a responsibility to be actively involved and volunteered.’

Narain joined the Maternal, Adolescent and Child Health Institute (MatCH), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), to engage in widespread testing. He formed part of the Northern eThekwini response, which has 13 teams, comprising CHWs, nurses, doctors, drivers, and logisticians from the Department of Health (DoH) and several NGOs. Over this period, he covered various designated sites in Phoenix, Tongaat, KwaMashu and Inanda.

‘Every morning would begin with meetings with all teams and co-ordinators from the DoH in a community hall or centre with physical distancing precautions observed. Here we received instructions pertaining to testing sites and thereafter proceeded to collect test kits, registers, personal protective equipment (PPE), and forms. We would then scout for an appropriate site in the designated area. I would don the PPE and stay in the mobile clinic, whilst the rest of the team captured patients’ details and discerned close contacts before sending people to me for testing.

‘I tested between 50 and 70 people a day. Most people were anxious; however, I reassured them that the process is quick. In addition, I advocated for proper hand washing, use of alcohol based sanitisers, physical distancing and masks. At the end of every day, samples would be dropped off at a National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) mobile, and we would report stats and hand in forms to the co-ordinators.’

Narain identified several challenges. ‘There was poor mobilisation in some areas. With testing, there is also an increased risk of transmission but we were provided with PPE. Furthermore, the community health centre in Inanda where we used to discard medical waste, recorded infections amongst its healthcare workers and had to close, resulting in the halting of testing. Also, in one community, a team was allegedly hijacked – highlighting the dangers of community work.

‘Despite these challenges, it was a humbling and inspiring experience to engage with CHWs and South Africans in various communities. I would like to thank the MatCH and the DoH for providing me with this opportunity to serve.’

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied