My name is Luseshelo Simwinga and I am a nurse and midwife working at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), in Blantyre City, Malawi. I am proud to be a midwife, and work so hard to help the mothers I care for, every day, but like all nurses and midwives working during the COVID-19 pandemic, I need more support to do my job well. There has been a certain type of discrimination against health workers using public transport from when Malawi confirmed the first COVID-19 case. People are not comfortable sitting close to a nurse for fear of contracting COVID-19, as they assume nurses have the virus because they take care of patients. For me, I experienced a discriminatory look when I boarded a public transport and am noticing that some of my friends and relatives are not visiting me as frequently as they used to. My facility did not have adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for health workers but at the same time, we were supposed to be providing quality respectful and dignified maternity care to our clients.
Personally, I had a lot of fears when providing care to my clients, especially when they would cough or sneeze without covering their mouth, as I was not putting on any type of protective wear. My work became very stressful, especially when going home, thinking that I might have contracted the virus. I felt that it was not safe for me to visit my father, who is old, and my young niece, people that are so dear to me at moment. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard surface, with feelings of compassion, empathy and extreme fear. I’m obliged to provide quality and respectful maternity care to my patients but at the same time, I did not have adequate equipment to protect myself. I quoted my pledge of service that states, “the health of my patients will be my first consideration,” then questioned how I was to provide quality care if I were to get infected and ill. This created emotions of fear, hurt and burnout.
I also tell them how important respectful care is to pregnant women, that it can help improve maternal and neonatal health indicators, because women who receive respectful and dignified care are more likely to come back to the hospital to get skilled care at their next delivery, or whenever they or their neonates have any danger signs or a secondary obstetric emergency. The health facility where I work is now fully back in operation after the health workers, inspired by What Women Want and Midwives’ Voices, Midwives’ Demands, conducted a sit-in over several days to demand the Ministry of Health provide PPEs. With the PPEs now available, I am able to provide my services more comfortably and with limited fears.
As told to Hester Nyasulu, Executive Director of White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood Malawi.