“I would see that her [my sister] needed to be washed but nurses are busy and they are few,” says Zanele.
Zanele Julia Mqhele is a nurse in South Africa. When she was a child visiting her sister in hospital, she saw that the nursing staff were unable to provide care for her because of the sheer number of patients and limited nursing staff.
For health workers on the frontlines of a pandemic, it requires extraordinary levels of commitment and bravery.
Inspired by the passion of the nurses and the great need she saw, Zanele became a registered nurse. Since 2003 she has been caring for patients and ensuring the nursing staff are not stretched thin.
“For me, this is the best profession ever. I can never want to be anything else,” says Zanele.
Today, living in Eastern Cape, South Africa, she is battling another pandemic. On 5 March 2020, South Africa contracted its first case of COVID-19. Since then, it has had the most cases of any country on the African continent.
Health workers like Zanele are the most exposed to the virus. Unfortunately, she was infected and suffered the worst of the symptoms.
“I could not feel any sense of purpose,” says Zanele. “It is the moment I decided to stand up. I remembered that people were dying in numbers.”
“So, I thought to myself is this my turn to die? No, I cannot die, not now. So the vaccine was our hope.”
Health workers like Zanele are the reason we can fight COVID-19 all around the world. Frontline workers are risking their lives to help see us through this pandemic. But they are exhausted and overwhelmed.
It is our responsibility to ensure they can continue their work by making sure frontline workers are vaccinated, staffed, and have all the support they need.
Zanele was one of the first in her city to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. With it, she is continuing to provide essential health care. The importance of vaccines cannot be stated enough, without them, Zanele would not have been able to safely return to her patients.