Health workers: Covid-19 tested our work ethics

Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacy and Dentists Union chairman D Victor Ng'ani (left) and secretary general Dr Sultani Matendechero during a news conference at Chester House, Nairobi April 3, 2013. The Doctors asked the incoming Jubilee government to keep its pre-election promise and allocate 15 per of the national budget to health. DENISH OCHIENG

Healthcare workers from around Nairobi have opened up about their work-related challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking during a Valentine’s Day breakfast at Café Deli in Nairobi, they said the pandemic has tested their work ethics, adding that they had underestimated the severity of the virus.

Dr Victor Ng'ani, head of clinical services at RFH Healthcare and the founding chairman of Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), said there was a time he doubted the value of what he was doing.

"I am an experienced doctor in critical care, but Covid-19 made me doubt if there was value in what I was doing,” he said.

“When you put these patients on a ventilator and do a CT scan and you see there are no lungs, even wondering how that person is even alive, your heart sinks. It was a difficult time.”

To protect his family from contracting the virus, Dr Ngáni rented a house near the hospital, but his wife insisted he had to stay with the family.

As many doctors treated Covid-19 patients by speaking to them through a window, he opted to interact with them directly.

"Through my many years as a critical-care doctor I realised sicker patients need more direct care, so it was a tough decision that seemed reckless at some point but I had to be there for them," he added.

Catherine Brenda, public health officer in charge of the infectious diseases unit at Kenyatta National Hospital, was deployed there since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Kenya.

For her, handling Covid-19 was a baptism by fire, and she had to learn many things on the job.
"Understanding our health system and level of preparedness scared me and that is what created the panic – we knew it would be overwhelming. We looked at countries with good healthcare systems and how overwhelmed (they were) and we got scared,” she said.

“However, team work saw us through the fight against the pandemic."

But, through the two years, the hardest and most painful part of her work was handling sick colleagues.

"We had colleagues who dropped dead in the line of duty. That was the most traumatising thing I have had to cope with," she said.

Miriam Mule, a physiotherapist at KNH attached to the infectious diseases unit, said she was scared and confused when she was assigned to handle the Covid-19 ward.

She thought of rejecting the assignment but having served in the infectious diseases unit (IDU) for two years, she immediately knew she was in a much better position to serve in the Covid-19 wards than her colleagues from other departments.

"I asked for an overnight to think about it, and when I came back the following day, I had decided this is what I wanted to do,” she said.

“I was working in the IDU before Covid-19, but I thought if I rejected (the Covid-19 assignment) who else would fit in better than me.

“I was used to wearing protective gear. I felt like it would be very unfair to see someone go in there without any experience, yet there I was with two years of experience.”

Every year, Café Deli prepares breakfast for different community members. This year, it recognised healthcare workers for the two years they have spent fighting Covid-19.

"We settled on health workers to recognise their input, dedication and resilience in helping the entire nation deal with the pandemic," Café Deli CEO Obado Obado.

Mr Obado also recognised the contributions of caregivers.

“This is a special category of people that have laid down their lives to give care to ailing families. If there is such a thing as compassion, then I believe that these people, the caregivers, are the holders of the definition,” he said.

To avoid being exposed to Covid-19 as they continue their work, caregivers did not attend the event.
But Café Deli provided meal vouchers to the Caregivers Association of Kenya.

Dr Charles Kyengo, a representative of the association, said family caregivers are often so consumed by their responsibilities that they barely get time to get out and pamper themselves.  

"You forget about yourself and sink into a caregiver's guilt. When you buy yourself a coffee, you feel guilty that the money would have been used on drugs or the food should have been for the sick," he said.
Café Deli’s kind gesture, he said, reminded them that they matter and are loved.

"The thought of giving the caregivers meal vouchers is a great show of love that you are there for them and is priceless," he said.