Every year when South Africans commemorate National Women’s Day we are reminded of all the women who have consistently and continuously put themselves in the frontlines. Whether they are challenging political or societal norms, for decades, women continue to push frontiers, contest stereotypes and remain at the forefront.
This year Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa is putting a spotlight on five women in our organisation who are at the frontlines of a different obstacle – COVID-19. They are tirelessly contributing to the management of the pandemic each one bringing a different speciality to help South Africans deal with the virus.
While MSF’s COVID-19 activities have developed considerably, our role and impact in the management of the pandemic is relatively limited. We are not leading the response, rather we are playing a part – to greater and lesser degrees – of wider COVID-19 national responses.
In supporting MSF’s strategy to manage the virus, our female fieldworkers had to change their regular day-to-day work to take up new roles. This #WomensDay2020 we profile Azalet Dube, (health promoter), Zani Prinsloo (nurse and midwife), Yolanda Hanning (psychologist), Candice Sehoma (Access Campaign Advocacy Officer), and Bhelekazi Mdlalose (forensic nurse).
Bhelekazi Mdlalose, contact tracer
Bhelekazi Mdlalose is a forensic nurse who has now become a contact tracer for COVID-19 in Gauteng. Part of Bhelekazi’s work was to work with victims of SGBV in Rustenburg, now she interviews patients who are confirmed to have COVID-19 and tries to find out who they were in contact with to test those people and curb the spread of COVID-19. When asked why she did this she said “I first asked myself a question: Do I want to be a hero? No, but I pledged that the health of my community will be my first consideration.” Therefore, she does this work due to her pledge and the passion for nursing.
Zani Prinsloo, nurse and midwife
Zani Prinsloo is a nurse and midwife working as an MSF sexual and reproductive health (SRH) trainer. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, she would travel to MSF projects in different countries and teach colleagues about women’s health issues, sexual violence and safe abortion care. Since South Africa went into lockdown, however, she has been supporting MSF teams around the country to deal with the outbreak and its knock-on effects.
Azalet Dube, health promoter
Azalet Dube is a health promoter for COVID-19 in Gauteng. Part of her work is to educate people (in this case building managers) about COVID-19, its symptoms, how it spreads, how to get tested and so forth. Dube is also a health promoter for other illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and TB. Dube sees health promotion as important during COVID-19 to combat fake news, and to ensure that people have sufficient information to pass on to others. COVID-19 is a new pandemic, although she has done health promotion and counselling before it has adjusted her normal health promotion activities, now highly focused on COVID-19.
Candice Sehoma, access campaign advocacy officer
Candice Sehoma is our Access Campaign Advocacy Officer. She and the Access Campaign teams work to ensure that our organization advocates for good medical causes such as access to medication and so forth. She has worked on campaigns to advocate for reduction of prices of bedaquiline, the TB Drug and others. Now with COVID-19 there are campaigns in place to prevent Big Pharma from profiteering against COVID-19 vaccines, medications and testing kits. This is to ensure that everyone has access.
Yolanda Hanning, psychologist
Yolanda Hanning is a psychologist working as a mental health activity manager at MSF’s Sexual Violence Project in Rustenburg. She has worked with victims of SGBV, but now part of her work is to support patients with their mental health during COVID-19.
During lockdown, the MSF team in Rustenburg observed a significant decrease in the number of victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) seeking care at the Kgomotso Care Centres (dedicated SGBV clinics) in the Bojanala District. “The pandemic has placed great limitations on everyone’s freedom of movement and invariably increased the exposure of victims of gender-based violence to more danger. This could have increasingly severe impacts on the mental health as well as physical wellbeing and safety of victims and their families,” says Yolanda
While continuing to deliver integrated medical and psychosocial care to SGBV survivors, the project’s activities have shifted to include remote mental health and psychosocial interventions to support patients, health workers and key populations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology, where accessible, has been a useful tool.
“People can be best supported through offering remote mental healthcare support or by attending online psychosocial interventions where it is possible,” Yolanda explains. In order to ensure continuity of care throughout the pandemic, patients who require ongoing mental health support have been receiving telephonic follow-up counselling sessions. Tele counselling ensures that they still connect with patients and are able to offer mental health and psychosocial support services via telephone.