Windhoek-Six years ago, 25-year-old Ndapanda Sakaria was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, after close to a year of being sick.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease. In this case, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. It can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs.
“I was diagnosed prior to going to China in 2011,” said Sakaria, a fourth-year medical student at a university in Shanghai. At the time, Sakaria was studying microbiology at the University of Namibia (Unam). In the beginning of 2011, Sakaria applied for a scholarship to China and “forgot about it”.
“I continued with my Unam classes, but then I got really, really sick and I didn’t know what was happening,” she related. In the mornings, she would experience sharp pains in her feet. “It felt like I was stepping on needles,” is how Sakaria described the pain. She also noticed that her hands would stiffen, but she would eventually feel better as the day progressed. “Sometimes I would have these big bumps that came from nowhere on my joints,” she added.
Each time she sought medical attention she would recover, but the same symptoms would crop up not long after completing her medication.
“I just stopped going to the doctors, because it was pointless. I refused antibiotics because I felt like these people have been giving me antibiotics and these things kept coming back,” she reminisced.
She had to stop attending school in 2011. “It got to a point where I couldn’t go to school, because I was sick and I was going through medical tests. There are no specialists here in Namibia,” she noted.
“The body is attacking itself. It cannot differentiate between self and non-self. It attacks the synovial fluid in the joints. That’s why you get stiff, because that fluid gets eaten away by the body itself,” Sakaria explained.
According to Mayo Clinic website, rheumatoid arthritis an autoimmune disorder that occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks their own body tissue.
Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis is what can damage other parts of the body, as well. “While new types of medications have improved treatment options dramatically, severe rheumatoid arthritis can still cause physical disabilities,” Mayo Clinic advises.
Sakaria was referred to a physician but not a specialist of the disease. “I was experiencing back pain and it got to a point where I couldn’t walk by myself. My mum had to take me to the toilet, bathe me. I was bedridden, so I couldn’t go to school,” Sakaria recalls.
She was then referred to a specialist in South Africa, where she was diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis with an overlap of systemic lupus erythematosus. The disease is genetic, but is specific to women of African and Asian descent, who are of childbearing age.
Sakaria says she can understand why some people refuse to take their medication. “I stopped taking my medication though when I went, because I felt like the disease was not mine,” she says.
Initially, she stuck to the prescribed medication, but then she stopped. For four years, Sakaria had no relapses. The disease was in remission by itself, so she felt like it was not necessary, she explained. But, in 2016, she had a relapse that she attributes partly to the stress she endured that year.
In June this year, Sakaria had a severe bout of illness. This time the symptoms included excruciating pain and rashes all over the body. The doctors, however, later discovered that it was due to salmonella poisoning.