Beyond the Obvious: Vicarious trauma: The case of Chitalu Chilufya

IT WAS relieving to see the other day, Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya being replaced by another official from the ministry in the daily briefing of the now infamous coronavirus updates. Otherwise the minister would be easily crushed by vicarious trauma. You see, vicarious trauma affects those who work in close contact with traumatised clients or people who are always sharing their pain and anguish with you. Examples are many: survivors of violence, people who are struggling, sexual assault and many more. And recently, the many cases of coronavirus patients that is still haunting us.

The human species has an intricate weave of spiritual oneness that connects all of us – empathy, if I may want to explain it. Because of this, those who are in constant touch with people in pain, or if you hear of horrific stories every day, you start to suffer from compassion fatigue and start to drown in your clients’ suffering as well. It’s total burnout, if you like. It happens because you care about the suffering of others and feel responsible and you are committed to help. But nonetheless you want to do more than you can handle. I have seen this in minister Chitalu. He’s trying his best to help, but alas, he seems to be over doing things to his own detriment.

You may think that he is just an administrator and is far away from the battle line. But he is actually the one who bears the full brunt of the health burden of the people of this country, especially the COVID-19 pandemic we have currently. Every day he has to get reports from all over the country and these figures could be troubling him day and night. So every new tally in the coronavirus count takes away an ounce of his energy.

Difficulty in sleeping, over/under eating, isolation and excessive drinking of alcohol are some of the symptoms of vicarious trauma. Others, though not conclusive, are difficulty managing emotions, over-working, trying to help beyond your work or ability, and many, many more.

Some of these symptoms may be seen in our health minister. By mid-May and for the fiftieth consecutive time, he’s been briefing the nation about the deadly pandemic. Every time the numbers are going up and this is eating at his soul and his emotions are being torn to pieces. You can see this by the way he’s been looking lately. He appears tired, sad, low in spirit and struggling to speak. Going forward, the President needs to drop this man before he drops while giving us yet more tallies of the coronavirus count.
It’d be embarrassing for the Head of State to have missed a chance to do the right thing in national interest. The country has enough human resources from which to choose and avoid a pending embarrassing situation.

The other person who has disappointed me so far is this man they call John Magufuli, the Tanzanian President. He seems to be one of those modern African leaders who want to combine politics and religion. He took the Chinese virus lightly and did not shut churches and other places of worship. Instead he went to the mountains to pray and took along cameramen to play with. He had hoped that by praying, God would protect Tanzania, and may be He did. But what do we see? Truck drivers coming from Tanzania gave us the highest number of corona tallies in a single day! Now the northern part of Zambian, as indeed are everywhere else, is in danger because of the religious carelessness by someone who needs to know better.

Vicarious trauma does not affect medical practitioners only, but priests and pastors as well. When the flock continues to live in sin and every time the clergy or other men/women of God counsel us, we make them suffer from vicarious trauma. Most pastors have very tender hearts, especially that the devil is always after them. They spend much of their time binding the invisible enemy and reading the word of God and interceding for us. But we stubbornly make their work difficult by going to church late, bribing traffic officers, evading paying tax and knowingly doing wrong when we shouldn’t. As though that is not vile enough, we continue to label them with all sorts of names and insinuations. When they hear of disturbing stories of sin and other vile behavior among the flock, it affects them badly. So guys, let’s walk circumspectly. Let’s sin less and spare the men of God. See you in paradise.

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