Surviving the deadly COVID-19 outbreak in a monastery of Lesotho |


© World Health Organization Lesotho

For Sister Juliet Lethemba, last year was “nothing short of compassion and mercy from above,” as she puts it. The 77-year-old resident of the Mt Royal Convent of the Sisters of the Charity of Ottawa, located in Leribe, Lesotho, did not know much about COVID-19 until her monastery home and her sisters’ sisters were infected with the deadly virus.

She devoted her life to religious service since 1964, when she was only 20 years old. In its 47 years of dedication, it has not experienced such a mess wrought by disease as it did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sister Lithemba was one of the first people to be recognized as a confirmed case in May 2020 in her monastery when she first thought she had a cold.

“It was not surprising that I had flu-like symptoms because all my life I had a cold,” she said.

There is no improvement

The situation did not improve with the passage of days until she visited Mutibang Hospital, a facility located a few blocks from the monastery, for treatment. The nurse who helped her that day told her to take a test for COVID-19.

After testing positive for the virus, Sister Lithemba was transferred to Beria Hospital for isolation and observation. She was on oxygen every day for 18 days.

“I even learned how to operate the oxygen machine. It sure will be a long stay in the hospital. I learned this over the days,” she says. Opposite her bed was her sister from the monastery, who had difficulty breathing, eating, or even drinking water.

“She was unable to swallow or hold on to anything,” says Sister Lethamba. Later, her neighbor unfortunately died.

The virus was so widespread that the nun was taken every day to the nearest private clinic to give her oxygen. She was the eldest of the 96 big sisters.

Too many warriors lost

World Bank / John Hugh

The mountainous country of Lesotho in South Africa began vaccinating frontline workers against COVID-19 in March.

In total, the monastery recorded 17 positive cases and 3 negative cases. Unfortunately, seven of these confirmed cases have died.

These were trying times for us. Sister Lethamba says: We lost a lot of warriors in this battle, and life will never be the same. ”She and the other occupants of the house say they do not know how or where they might have been injured at that time.

After the first wave of the virus, the monastery home hired a cleaning and disinfection company, and ordered everyone to adhere to COVID-19 protocols and allow all their workers to remain on campus.

Guestrooms are temporarily closed, to reduce movement in and out of the home.

Dangerous killer

“Right now, everyone had to stay in their rooms. There are disinfectants in every room and all entrances and exit points. We observe physical distance in our dining hall and when we go to perform our daily prayers. We take our safety very seriously. “

To protect Lesotho’s elderly, the government is implementing an initiative known as the Risk Communication and Community Engagement Campaign. With the support of the World Health Organization (Who is theUnited Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) And other partners, authorities have designed messages targeted to specific groups in society such as the elderly, the vulnerable, and community members who suffer from various conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

© World Health Organization Lesotho

The WHO Risk Communication Team is working with government officials at a workshop to develop COVID-19 messaging in Leribe, Lesotho.

“The elderly population is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic because they are more susceptible to contracting the virus due to a weak immune system and pre-existing health conditions,” said Richard Banda, WHO representative for Lesotho.

This is why that Team In Lesotho, it supports community engagement activities, particularly those targeting people at risk, and organizes special meetings where hygiene promotion talks take place, keeping in mind the do’s and don’ts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We must intensify our work to achieve universal health coverage, and invest in addressing the social and economic determinants of health, to address inequality and build a more equitable and healthy world,” added Mr. Panda.

By mid-April, Lesotho had re-coded nearly 11,000 cases of the virus with 315 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The country launched the COVID-19 vaccination campaign on March 10, 2021 thereafter Receive vaccinations through the COVAX facility. About 16,000 doses have been administered so far, mainly to frontline workers.

Lifesaving shots

“Every disease needs to be treated, and even if this vaccine is not perfect, it at least reduces the chances of death and serious illnesses. That is all we need for hope,” says Sister Lethamba.

And it is now taking into account all available preventive measures, to reduce the rate of infection, so that the country controls the epidemic.

As a coronavirus survivor, Sister Lethemba urges the authorities to make use of resources to enable community engagement teams to visit all corners of every area. She said this should focus on communicating with everyone, including those in hard-to-reach areas.

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