12 May 2021, Geneva, Switzerland - Nurses are the backbone of all global healthcare systems and play a crucial role in improving the quality of services and care for people in their care. They are the unsung heroes fighting on the front lines to save lives, often risking their own to apply life-saving expertise to those that need it most. It is a role that has been catapulted to new heights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On this year’s International Nurses Day, the Stop TB Partnership is humbled to pay tribute to nurses and highlight the crucial work they play every single day to support people suffering and in need of diagnosis, treatment, and care due to tuberculosis (TB), COVID-19, and many other diseases.
To mark the day, Dr. Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership and staunch TB Champion, held a virtual chat with Naomi Wanjiru, a TB nurse and advocate, to highlight the brave work done by nurses and to share their experience in fighting TB and COVID-19.
Watch the live chat:
Nurse Wanjiru, a proud nurse and TB survivor, has been working for the past 12 years in the TB and HIV/AIDS clinic at the Engineers District Hospital in Nyandarua Country in Central Kenya. She is also the winner of the 2015 Kochon Prize in recognition of her work to fight stigma associated with TB. It is something she knows well, having in the past contracted TB and drug-resistant TB of the spine, leaving her unable to walk for months. She underwent a complex surgery in India and endured a long recovery. However, despite the painful ordeal, Nurse Wanjiru went back to work because she wanted to be an example for others. She explained, “I wanted to show my patients that TB is curable and treatable. I would even show them my surgery scars on my back, tell them all of the steps I went through, and encourage them to start the treatment. I always give the clients my phone number in case they have anything they want to share and ask me about their disease.”
During the live conversation, Nurse Wanjiru highlighted a recent case to illustrate how misconceptions about TB diagnosis, treatment, and care still exist. “Yesterday, a newly-enrolled patient came into the clinic and told me that his mother thought TB would never go away even if he took medication. I went to see his mother and told her that he would get better in six months if he takes his medication. I feel very happy to start this journey to recovery with my client and my personal example is very useful to them,” said Nurse Wanjiru.
Nurse Wanjiru and Dr. Ditiu also touched on the global setbacks in the overall TB response due to the ongoing pandemic. “COVID-19 caught us off guard. The number of TB patients or recipients really went down during the pandemic, as the symptoms are very similar and prompted many patients to stay at home, assuming it was COVID-19. Due to lockdowns, people could not travel, and only came to the clinic when they were really affected. When COVID-19 came, there was a lot of stigma. Now we are getting used to it. We have experienced a setback in TB with COVID-19, but we should not be taken down. We need to carry on and make sure we end TB by 2030,” said Nurse Wanjiru.
“I want to appeal to all nurses and health workers not to send people away telling them that they have COVID-19. Take the time and talk to them. Send them for TB screening. I want to catch the disease in time and prevent severe cases. The cure is long and complex, but you will also sleep calmly because you know you have done your job.”
Dr. Ditiu honored the contribution of nurses, saying, “Nurses are at the forefront of the health care system and should be honored for their continuous selfless dedication, big hearts, and fearless determination in looking after the people suffering from TB and COVID-19. They are the nameless heroes and true fighters who, with their silent voices and despite the personal risks, continue to carry out their duties and make a real difference for their communities and people affected by TB." She continued, "At the Stop TB Partnership, we are deeply humbled and amazed by the work you and other nurses take on your shoulders on a daily basis in fighting TB. I hope there will be more people like you who go the extra mile and give that special hope and help people with TB.”
The International Day of the Nurse is observed globally on 12 May and marks the anniversary of the founder of modern nursing - Florence Nightingale. The theme for the 2021 commemoration is Nurses: A Voice to Lead - A Vision for Future Healthcare.