They are healthcare workers and innovators. They are nurses, doctors and caregivers administering vaccines and performing clinical testing. Regardless of their role in the COVID-19 response, they are leading us to a safer world and inspiring the next generation of females in healthcare and science.
The COVID-19 outbreak around the world has created a global health crisis that has disrupted the daily lives of nearly all global citizens, and Nigeria has not been spared. With sustained community transmission, the pandemic is exacting a heavy toll on health systems and the many healthcare workers who have been at the forefront of the global response, most of them female. Despite these demanding pressures, women are playing an outsized role in keeping their communities safe and resilient in the face of COVID-19.
Since the inception of the UN Severe and Acute Respiratory Isolation Treatment (SARI) Centre, on 28th of April 2020 in Abuja, Nigeria, women have made up 90% of the work force, from testing to the treatment and discharge of patients. This team of dedicated medical personnel is made up of 19 healthcare workers ranging from doctors, nurses and medical laboratory staff. With the Clinical Team and The Rapid Response Team led by two female doctors, staff work in shifts up to 24-hours providing around the clock care to patients in need.
Harmony between professional and personal life in the UN SARI;
With so much demand and mental exhaustion, the challenges of balancing work and life, patients mental and physical care and personal family time cannot be over emphasized when speaking about the UN SARI team.
Clinical Team Lead Dr. Ogenna Okeke shared some of the realities of being a woman on the frontline, “It's been quite challenging combining my role as the clinical team lead with the various other roles I play as a wife, mother, sister and daughter. One of the most challenging periods during this job was when one of my three children had to have an emergency surgery. I had to provide leadership to my work team and at the same time, provide the most needed maternal nurturing care to my son. It was interesting to see me working on my laptop and casting glances at my son while he was sleeping on his hospital bed! I must say at this point that I was marveled at the support provided by my team because it made the challenge easier to handle. As a female leader, I have also observed that my female colleagues are more willing to open up to me and share challenges which may be affecting their work. More often than not, together, we have devised strategies to help our staff cope better thus resulting in a better work-life balance”.
On the other hand, The Rapid Response Team Lead Dr. Nwakeago Maduemezia explained the challenges relating to emergency response “Being a wife and a mother of two children, one of which is less than a year old, I have to be available at work 24-hours while also having to make time for my children. I am responsible for the initiation of medical evacuation of COVID-19 positive patients from their stations to the facility for proper treatment. In all this, harmony has been maintained between my team and our patients”.
100% Patient Recovery and No Staff Infection Status
One key achievement so far has been UN SARI’s patient recovery rate with positive outcome from the devastating disease. Depending on the severity of infections, mild to moderate, the clinic has had 100% success rate and no staff infections. Infection prevention and control standards (IPC) are still kept at high state from the inception of the facility until now. The success of the UN SARI team in taking care of their patients is further demonstrated by their consideration for their patients’ mental health. Nurse Theresa Dike commented that “taking care of the patients in the UN SARI has brought moments of joy and happiness as all of the patients nursed in the facility have been discharged without recording any mortality”.
In the maintenance of IPC Standard, Nurse Stella Anyakorah explained that “I have to decontaminate myself properly before I leave the facility and get home to my family. Being a rapid response lead nurse, I have to take extra precautions in order to ensure that I don't infect myself and other team members”.
Capacity building for female healthcare workers on safe and efficient
The second wave of COVID-19 is ravaging the globe and the next phase of the response is focused on vaccination as Nigeria just received the first procurement last week. In a similar vein, some level of resistance is expected against vaccine acceptance. Aside cultural and spiritual beliefs for rejecting orthodox medicines, there is a lack of trained health practitioners and pervasive lack of knowledge of these diseases in rural and remote areas. These defeat the concept of primary healthcare. With all of these challenges, vaccine acceptance must be carefully addressed before rollout. Nigerians must look inward in the spirit of self-reliance and self-determination for practical solutions. Not just for this phase of vaccination but a holistic approach to better our health indices.
Commenting on this Nurse Hauwa Hassan suggested that emphasis should be made on capacity building for female health care workers on safe and dignified vaccination in the rural community. “Female health workers have demonstrated that they are our best bet for navigating future for various health crises, therefore resources are needed for training, career developments and workshops to harness more out of their experiences on vaccination and better patient care”.
As UN SARI mark’s one year in operation, the female health workers of the Treatment Centre continue to successfully serve in one of the most unprecedented health care emergencies of recent times. The gendered implications of working within such a challenging environment must be addressed to ensure the safety of healthcare workers and their patients. Furthermore, recognizing the achievements of female healthcare workers during this pandemic provides an invaluable platform to advocate for women’s leadership in Nigeria, which faces a crisis in gender equality on several fronts.