Instead of being the community heroes facing COVID-19 at the frontline in health institutions, nurses are recipients of stigmatisation and the psychological effects are dire.
Upon graduation and subsequent employment as a nurse on a full-time basis, Nobuhle Moyo (not her actual name) became the go-to person on matters related to health as friends and relatives sought advice from her.
With COVID-19, friends, relatives and others are ‘keeping’ a distance whenever she visits her family in Bulawayo during weekends fearing infection from the respiratory disease.
“There is also this look that people give you when they see you wearing a nurses’ uniform. You can feel that people are scared to mingle with us because of our exposure to the disease,” says Nobuhle Moyo, a nurse.
Moyo, a nurse at Maphisa district hospital in Matabeleland South, adds: “It deeply hurts to see friends and relatives alike shying away from me.”
Moyo and several colleagues in the profession report experiencing a great deal of psychological distress not only during care of COVID-19 patients but outside work where they hope to get affection.
Severe anxiety and trauma resulting from fear of infection from COVID-19 as frontline workers is not helping matters, raising fears that such acutely poor mental health impairs their ability to work effectively.
Statistics provided by the Health and Child Care ministry show that 1547 health workers have tested positive, with 7 succumbing to the global pandemic. Fears abound that more nurses will test positive owing to the rapid increase of new cases countrywide.
As of February 17, Matabeleland South had recorded 1963 cases, 35 of them being active and 28 deaths.
Zimbabwe is recording double digit deaths from COVID-19 on a daily basis, some being top government officials such as Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo who passed away on January 20 while admitted at a private hospital in the capital, Harare.
“In our case, there is always a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent us from infection…this is emotionally draining as more of our colleagues test positive,” another nurse adds, opting to remain anonymous for fear of stigmatisation
In interviews with health workers, this publication gathered that nurses suffer various forms of anxiety because of the disease, fear of infecting family, emotional distress when delivering news that a COVID-19 patient has died, fear of being contaminated and the public ignorance of preventive measures such as wearing masks.
Wilfred Nunu, a lecturer in the department of Environmental Science and Public health and community medicine at the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) weighs in saying research shows that most nurses are suffering COVID-19 induced stigmatisation.
“People now rarely associate with nurses. They (people) fear someone who is working at a hospital is infectious,” Nunu says.
Health workers in the public health sector, including nurses, receive monthly COVID-19 risk allowances in line with the low, medium and high-risk categories. The levels of payment are $1 500, $2 250 and $3 750, respectively.
They also receive a US$75 COVID-19 allowance, paid to all civil servants at the prevailing local currency rate while those assigned to work in the RedZone treatment wards are entitled to a monthly allowance of $6 000.
Health workers who test positive to COVID-19 are also entitled to a once-off payment of US$1 650 for Grade E5 and below and US$1 000 for F Grades, paid in local currency at the prevailing rate.
Nunu argues COVID-19 anxieties facing nurses cannot be wished away with risk allowances but through interventions such as increasing psycho-social support and assuring adequate organisational support.
“It is not enough. One challenge we face here is that we have failed to put emphasis on psychological support. Government has to give them proper psychosocial support services as a stress management intervention,” says Nunu.
Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director Ruth Chikodzore however, says they conducted psychological support training in the province by the Health and Child Care ministry.
“We trained varied cadres including district rapid response testing members, clinicians and non-clinicians. The training was not isolated but integrated with COVID-19,” Chikodzore told The Citizen Bulletin.
“District psychological focal persons are offering continuation of mental health services which will be targeted to cadres requiring support. There are plans underway to include a social service department in reaching out to the community as well.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enoch Dongo has urged authorities to redouble stress management support services to assist nurses cope with COVID-19 associated distress.
“We are actually urging the government to spearhead and put more efforts on psychosocial mechanisms in view of the deadly second wave of the pandemic that has hit the country,” Dongo says.
“Small things such as visits and phoning nurses to check on nurses that test positive makes a difference…we want the government to urgently look into this.”
Government must also ensure adequate stocks of PPE at public health facilities, he adds.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin