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May 13
HST salutes society’s unsung heroes, nurses

​By: Lunga Memela (Communications Engagement Lead)

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In the spirit of Ubuntu and full recognition of their commitment and dedication to saving the lives of others, the Health Systems Trust (HST) would like to say to nurses all over the world, thank you!

The global community observes International Nurses Day annually on 12 May, a day commemorating the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth (1820-1910). This world icon's work and training of nurses helped transform hospitals from death houses to sanctuaries of care. This year, representatives from HST's Communications Unit and SA SURE Project spent the day visiting nurses from five clinics based in some of eThekwini's communities hardest hit by the recent floods to hear the voices of nurses employed in the organisation and try to fathom how they continue to shine, despite the recent crises, disasters and pandemics that have shaken KwaZulu-Natal.  

Funded by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) the South Africa Sustainable Response to HIV/AIDS (SA SURE) Project strengthens and supports local capacity. This provides sustainable HIV and TB-related care and treatment service delivery in seven districts (including over 600 facilities) spread over three provinces (Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal) through training, mentoring, coaching and direct service delivery. Some of the nurses visited on International Nurses Day form part of the SA SURE Project.

Care and compassion drives it all

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Facility Team Lead, Ntombentsha Sigam

The first stop was at Chesterville Clinic where we spoke to warm-hearted Facility Team Lead, Ntombentsha Sigam who joined the nursing profession in 2007 and HST in 2019. It was their caring nature, professionalism and crisp white uniforms that attracted Nurse Sigam to the profession. "When you're a nurse, you are also a teacher, an advocate and counsellor," she expressed. "I find joy and much reward in helping others," she said.

Nurse Sigam said COVID-19 was a definite blow for healthcare workers, patients and overall service delivery. "We lost a lot of clients. The clinic could only take a certain number of clients at a time. We experienced shortage of staff. Some of us had to go into isolation. There was a general fear of coming to work due to the nature of the pandemic, but we still came through because we really love what we do and genuinely care about the health and well-being of our clients. The recent floods also affected us badly, the healthcare workers as well as our clients. "Some staff couldn't come to work due to damaged roads, some lost their houses and had to relocate. It was to the extent that some phoned in asking for transfer letters. Access to work was limited and also detrimental was that tracing staff couldn't go out to reach patients."

Other challenges the facility faces are that the Chesterville community is home to many informal settlements, meaning that clients do not have actual addresses, they are lost to tracking and tracing, plus due to immigration, some clients have language barriers; they speak neither English nor isiZulu; making communication and service delivery a serious challenge. The facility did a mop up of the situation in March where many dwellers in the informal settlement tested positive for Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB). "There is a high pregnancy rate. One positive though is that the CCMDD Peleboxes are really helping in terms of clients being able to collect chronic medication at their convenience."

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Nurse Clinician, Nomcebo Khumalo

The situation was slightly better at New Germany Clinic where we met Nurse Clinician, Nomcebo Khumalo, who qualified as a professional nurse in 2009. She loves nursing! "The reward is seeing a patient coming in ill and walking out smiling. It keeps me going every day!"

Nurse Khumalo lost her grandfather to COVID-19 and says these two years of the pandemic have been surreal. New Germany Clinic services several neighbouring communities and one of the challenges the facility faces from at the onset was distinguishing whether the symptoms some of the clients showed were of COVID-19, TB or asthma. It has been a challenging time but she wouldn't trade her profession for the world. 
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Mpola Clinic Nursing Services Manager, Mrs Wendy Ncube and Facility Team Lead, Patrick Koli

Mrs Wendy Ncube, Mpola Clinic's Nursing Services Manager in the Pinetown vicinity, complimented HST Facility Team Lead, Patrick Koli, for his work ethic and professionalism. Not only an all-rounder at the clinic, but also for his dedication to boosting and promoting men's health services through the MINA Campaign at the facility, nurse Koli has always loved helping people, and he said he has been fortunate to work for non-governmental organisations that have mostly a strong HIV and TB focus since he joined the profession in 2009. 

They work closely with a COVID-19 Mobiliser and other healthcare providers from the Department of Health to provide integrated services at the Mpola community's Ward 15, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19 and for people with comorbidities. It was deeply saddening to learn that over 80 families are currently housed at the local Mpola Hall, with over 40 families at the local Sthundule Hall – all as a result of the recent floods that destroyed many parts of the province.

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Roads damaged by the recent floods in the Mpola community. 

Nurse Koli said COVID-19 screening is critical because it's flu season and people present with symptoms that could either be of flu, TB or COVID-19 alike. "We make sure that we fast track patients with flu symptoms, those on chronic medications, and of course, children and the elderly. A great win at the facility is the establishment of specific consultation rooms tailored for specific integrated services: MINA for Men, Adolescent Youth friendly Services (AYFs), and CCMDD for clients on chronic medication. Campaign Agents also work HST's Outreach Team and Community Healthcare Workers on HIV testing, case management, the tracking and tracing of clients, as well as on the Department of Health's Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI). 

There is hope!

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Nurse Samkelisiwe Gwala at Reservoir Hills Clinic

We also met Samkelisiwe Gwala (25), HST's Nurse Clinician whose middle name, 'Hope', which spells exactly what she exudes when clients walk through her door at Reservoir Hills Clinic. "I love helping people. Growing up, my church would make you go to bed at night asking yourself, 'How many people have you helped today?' That school of thought has never left me. You must allow God to use you to help other people. This is what I love; I wouldn't want to do anything else." 

Like all the nurses we met on the day, Nurse Gwala believes that a critical part of being a nurse is spending time to educate your clients about the importance of adhering to medication, as preached by the CCMDD campaign. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She said the floods were bad: not only could most staff not show up for work on the first day, but on the second day they arrived at work and the facility itself was flooded. "Patients open up to us about how dire the impact of the floods have been. Their stories motivated us to give donations. The Outreach Team has played an important role in delivering medication to clients that could not make it to the clinic due to the impact of the floods. We are still trying to recover. There are shacks nearby and some families who lost their homes have had to be housed at a neighbouring fall for a roof over their heads. Despite all of this, clients are persevering and still coming to collect their medication and receive treatment. That is impressive!"

A way forward

At birth, near-death experiences, illness, trauma, medical advice and sheer generosity, we have all experienced care in many forms from nurses. Let's do our best to respect, protect and preserve the profession.

A message from the CEO

"On international nurses Day 2022, we say a heartfelt thank you to all the nurses in HST for the wonderful work you do, and for having played a key role in HST's ability to continue to provide services over the past two difficult years. You've led from the front!" - Dr Themba Moeti .

A message to all nurses in isiZulu from the provincial Department of Health

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Nurses from Kwadabeka Clinic in eThekwini. 


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