A frontline health worker in Ethiopia shares her journey of caring for COVID-19 patients: How the COVID-19 vaccine encouraged her to do more with less fear
Asmera Seyum is one of the frontline workers in Ethiopia who has been caring for the COVID-19 patients since March 2020, when the first case was detected in the country. She is a senior nurse, and ward coordinator at Eka Kotebe General Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which provides, isolation, admission and intensive care for COVID-19 patients.
Asmera remembers the first day she started working in the COVID-19 hospital. “I was quite scared when I first followed news of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when Ethiopia reported the first confirmed a COVID-19 case on 13 of March 2020, I immediately decided to be fully engaged without reservation in caring for COVID-19 patients,” she says, “And reported to duty suppressing my fear for my personal safety”. What drove her to take this first step, she says, is the conviction that healthcare workers are in this world to take care of others. “My continuous worry was ‘if the pandemic wreaked havoc in developed countries, how will it affect my country with our closely-knit community and lifestyle, and our developing health system?’”
Recalling the difficult time she spent while looking after the COVID-19 patients, her eyes mist with tears. “Though the situation turned out to be not bad as I feared, we have witnessed and experienced many tragedies,” Asmera continues, sharing heart-breaking cases that have touched her to the core. When a mother and daughter were admitted to Asmera’s ward, Asmera and her colleagues worked around the clock providing nursing care and reassuring each about the wellbeing of the other – until the daughter, sadly, passed away. It took all professional and human strength to face the mother after that.
“The other unforgettable tragedy for us was losing our health care colleagues to COVID-19 without even the chance of being visited by their family while they were taking care of others.” Asmera was not sure that she would survive the pandemic, so made sure her house was in order before leaving home to work at the hospital without the possibility of a visit home for a full one month for the safety of her family. She left her husband to care alone for their four children, including a five-month-old baby.
In 13th March 2021, exactly a year after the detection of the first COVID-19 case in Ethiopia, the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign was launched, bringing hope to health workers and other high risk groups. Asmera was one of the health workers who received their first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine on the day of the national launching event at Eka Kotebe Hospital. “This means a lot to me and to my family who have sacrificed along with me in the course of the pandemic,” Asmera says, beaming with hope and happiness.
Asmera confirms that although the work put her at high risk of contracting the disease, she was still very happy to be part of the team providing critical care to patients in their hour of need, adding, “Now that I have taken the first dose of the vaccine, I will work with more confidence while I continue to strictly practice prevention measures both at work, in the community and at home.”
Asmera has since received the second dose of the vaccine and continues to care for COVID-19 patients at Eka Kotebe Hospital.
WHO has been supporting Eka Kotebe General Hospital with training of health workers with the Ministry of Health and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, provision of personal protective equipment and renovation of the water and sanitary system of the hospital.