“Save one life, you are a hero. Save hundreds of lives, you are a nurse.” – unknown
Every year on May 12, the world celebrates International Nurses Day, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. It is an opportunity to honour the service of health care workers who care for sick people every day, often under difficult conditions.
In Malawi, AIDS has claimed the lives of thousands of health care workers, wreaking havoc on the country’s already struggling health care system. In 2007, Dignitas opened a Health Care Worker to help nurses and other health care workers affected by HIV and AIDS.
Alice Kadzanja is the nurse that runs the clinic. She is also one of the clinic’s patients.
Before the clinic opened, Alice noticed that there was a lot of staff absenteeism and many deaths announcements at her hospital. Too many of her colleagues were dying and unable to serve their country in their profession. Because of stigma, many health care workers avoid testing and treatment. They fear being discriminated by the very patients that depend on them. As a result, HIV+ health care workers often fail to seek proper treatment until it’s too late.
“Before establishing the clinic, I would witness about three deaths of health workers in a month,” says Alice.
But when Alice found out she was HIV+ she rose above the stigma and discrimination and publicly declared her HIV status so that she could be an example to others. In fact, after joining Dignitas International, she helped to kickstart the Health Care Worker clinic.
“When we opened the clinic in 2007, there was a lot of stigma with being HIV+ and it was even worse for a nurse or a clinician. I witnessed my fellow health care workers dying in silence for fear of being ridiculed at work or in their communities. The clinic has totally reversed the situation; health workers are now able to regain health, live longer and continue serving the nation simply because they get ARVs and additional support from this clinic,” says Alice.
The clinic serves HIV + health care workers and their family members. The idea is to offer discreet services so that health care workers aren’t subjected to any stigma they might face if they were to receive services together with the general public.
“Today, health care workers tell me that the clinic is a timely saviour. I get clients that come from up to 400 kilometres away. It is easier for those testing positive for the first time to take the news because we are both health care workers. I am able to relate to them and tell them my story,” shares Alice.
By safeguarding Malawi’s health care workforce, Dignitas is helping to save the lives of thousands of people who rely on nurses and clinicians for treatment and care every day. The clinic has dramatically increased the uptake of HIV services amongst health care workers and its success has prompted the opening of two additional clinics in Malawi.