Covid-19 Stigma: Ken Ouko’s wife remains perched in hearse as don is buried
It is unfortunate that the widow of University of Nairobi lecturer Ken Ouko was stigmatised due to her Covid-19 status, the family said at his burial Friday, revealing a controversy and hitches that might have contributed to his delayed burial.
The don’s uncle, Dr Sam Ouko, the Chief pharmacist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), said it took his intervention for Mrs Grace Ouko to be allowed to bury her husband.
He regretted that the family was sidelined at its time of need.
Dr Ouko blamed the Homa Bay County Covid-19 emergency response team, accusing it of failing to follow stipulated regulations and attempting to deny the family an opportunity to bury the renowned sociology lecturer.
“In line with government restrictions on how to bury Covid-19 victims, we encountered many difficulties in having the body buried after 48 hours and ensuring his widow and children gave their loved one a befitting send off,” he said at the don’s home in Nyandiwa, Homa Bay.
The move by the county team scared family members and caused some of them not to attend the burial, he added.
Lake Basin Development Authority chair Odoyo Owidi, who was part of the Nairobi funeral committee, accused medical facilities of creating the fear of people sick with the virus.
“Kenyans need civic education on the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. This disease can best be managed at home so Kenyans need not panic, he said.
Mr Ouko’s father, 89-year-old Caleb Ouko, blamed the confusion ahead of his burial on conflicting information from Homa Bay County officials.
“At one time we were told it was risky for the family to visit the home while the next time they said it was ok,” he said.
The burial was marked with the heavy presence of the police who manned the compound as villagers followed proceedings through the fence.
The cortege, initially scheduled to reach at home by 6am Friday, was seven hours late following clearance hitches at the hospital. It had been scheduled to depart earlier on Thursday in order to arrive in Homa Bay at dawn.
The body remained in the hearse for the estimated one hour and 45 minutes that the ceremony took.
As with all Covid-19 cases, residents were not allowed to view the body as the county emergency response team took charge of the burial.
Mrs Ouko and two of their four children initially tested positive for the virus but were later found negative.
The widow, who travelled in the hearse from Aga Khan University Hospital mortuary, read her eulogy from the vehicle. She only alighted from the car at the very last moments of the burial.
Mr Ouko’s father said he was one of his favourites while his widow described him as caring, loving and prayerful.
“For the 30 years we were married, Ken treated us with dignity and pride,” Mrs Ouko said.
Regarding his illness, she said he was being treated for a bacterial infection but it persisted, hence the coronavirus test.
“For the first one week he was at the isolation centre at Aga Khan hospital, he asked for his laptop so he could do some work,” she said.
“The situation worsened in the second week when he was put in the ICU and on ventilation machines.”
The don was buried at the family graveyard next to his mother and brother.