Struggles of a frontline health worker during COVID-19
Nyembezi Gausi is one of the many courageous and selfless frontline health workers, working tirelessly to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Malawi.
She said that in the wake of COVID-19, she volunteered her services to the cause, despite working in the theatre department at the Bwaila Bottom hospital in Lilongwe.
The first days were the hardest when she would return home, thinking she was infected and being paranoid about all the little symptoms. As a frontline worker, she has undergone isolation at Kamuzu College of Medicine after being in contact with a patient who was infected with COVID-19. She was allowed to return home after the negative test result.
“My job is very stressful as I am basically handling two tasks: that of COVID-19 and the workload from my department. The hours are not reasonable, and I am currently using my leave days to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 in Malawi,” Gausi said.
She added, “I am lucky that I drive to work as I have heard of instances where my colleagues are abused on public transport by fellow passengers who fear they might get infected by sharing a vehicle with them.
Before COVID-19, nurses could easily answer their phones while on public transport to advise on a medical issue that was happening back at the hospital. But these days, it is safer to speak through headsets and have the person call you later where you are in a safe space to give medical advice, which is sad as sometimes some of the inquiries are urgent.’’
She gives another example of how nurses, these days, are not proud of wearing their uniforms in public. It is common for people to shout out “corona, corona’’ when they see a nurse. Thus, most nurses prefer to wear civilian clothes and carry their uniforms in their bags when out in public for fear of attacks and reprisals from people who don’t understand that by sitting next to a nurse, they will not contract COVID-19.
Nyembezi says, “I still face stigma in my community, but I am fortunate enough to be staying at my own house. I have heard terrible stories of my colleagues being asked to vacate their places since COVID-19 hit Malawi.”
The blatant example of the stigma she encountered is the fact that in the past years, every time she harvested her maize garden, she had eager neighbours willing to shell the maize for her. However, this year, there was no one willing to enter her yard.
However, she says some community members approach her for medical advice on the concerns they might have on COVID-19, and she willingly shares the information with them.
Nyembezi is very careful to ensure her family at home does not get infected as she has small children.
“When I get home, I immediately wash my hands and put sanitiser in my handbag and mobile phone before I enter the house. I then put my clothes in hot water and surf and have a bath before I can interact with my children.’’
She adds that more needs to be done in raising public awareness of preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including proper handwashing and the wearing of face masks.
“COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone but the ones who feel it the most are the health workers. We need more support to ease the burden on us. Our work and sacrifices should be acknowledged, and we want people to support us.”
She further states that there is a need for more testing kits and personal protective equipment like gloves and masks. She adds that she is thankful for organisations like UNICEF, for assisting with various critical items that enable health workers to carry out their duties safely.
She wants to send out a message to Malawians to protect themselves and their loved ones by always wearing face masks when out in public and washing their hands or sanitising if they can. In this way, they can help the health workers to fight COVID-19 in Malawi.
Lilongwe is one of the districts benefiting from UK Aid funding and UNICEF support on the COVID-19 response. UNICEF through UK Aid is supporting the Malawi Government with various supplies such as personal protective equipment, testing capacity, medicines, sanitizers, handwashing facilities, training of health workers among others.
To learn more about how UNICEF is working with partners to support frontline health workers, click here