In many sub-Saharan African countries, there are crisis-level shortages in health care workers, making it difficult for people to access essential medical services. In Malawi, for instance, there are only 2 physicians for every 100,000 people. The AIDS epidemic has also impacted an already struggling health care system, with the virus claiming the lives of thousands of health care workers.
Furthermore, many health care workers avoid testing and treatment because they don’t want to be stigmatized by the communities that depend on them. As a result, HIV-infected health care workers often fail to seek proper treatment until it’s too late. To address this, Dignitas operates a discreet Health Care Worker clinic where health workers and their families can attend appointments in privacy. The clinic has increased the uptake of HIV services by this group, who play a vital role in delivering health care to thousands. The success of this clinic has prompted the opening of two additional clinics in Malawi.
Alice Kadzanja, a Malawian nurse, is one of the clinic’s patients.
“This is a clinic specifically for HIV + health care workers, their spouses and relatives. The idea is to offer discreet services so they aren’t subjected to any stigma they might face if they were to receive services together with the general public,” says Alice.
Before the clinic opened in 2005, Alice noted that there was a lot of staff absenteeism and many deaths announcements. Too many of her colleagues were dying and unable to serve their country in their profession.
“At the time, there was a lot of stigma with being HIV+ and it was even worse for a nurse or a clinician. I witnessed fellow health care workers dying in silence for fear of being ridiculed at work or in their communities”, adds Alice.
But Alice rose above the stigma and discrimination and publicly declared her HIV status so that she could be an example to others. She worked as a nurse for 20 years until she retired with Ministry of Health. But she wasn’t tired and felt compelled to do more. In fact, after joining Dignitas International in 2004, she helped to kickstart the Health Care Worker clinic.
According to Alice, “When our clinic opened, many of my fellow health care workers came in for testing. I am glad to see that those who looked like they were near death are still alive and supporting Malawi’s health care system today.”
A typical day for Alice at the clinic involves filling out patient records, counselling patients and providing medical care. “My patients feel comfortable to be helped by me, a senior nurse. I have now lived 20 years with the virus and managed to give birth and raise an HIV-free child, who is now attending university.”
For every nurse like Alice that regains their health because of treatment and care, we are also impacting thousands of patients who depend on them for essential medical care. By safeguarding Malawi’s health force, we are safeguarding the future of a nation.