By The Global Fund
For Rosemary Wanjiru, a community health volunteer in Nairobi’s Soweto Village, fighting TB in the time of COVID-19 has meant making impossible choices. For instance, she was torn between keeping herself and her family safe at home or going out to see patients, who desperately needed her help.
The mother of two has dedicated more than 18 years of her life to volunteerism, supporting her community in the eastern part of Nairobi to fighting infectious diseases such as HIV and TB. With a sure step, she walks the narrow alleyways in her neighborhood, offering lifesaving treatment and education to the people. But when COVID-19 arrived here, it changed everything – without much notice, her daily work was putting her and her family at risk.
Rosemary remembers coming home the day the first case of COVID-19 was registered in her clinic and breaking the news to her children, who recoiled with fear. They were afraid that Rosemary may have brought the virus home. It was a tough moment for her as a mother.
“I felt stigmatized, I felt unwanted, unloved,” Rosemary recalls. “But I understood that everybody is scared to die.”
Such a moment could have disheartened many people. Not so Rosemary, who could not stop seeing her patients, who were desperate for help during those early months of the virus after the Kenyan government had instituted lockdown measures.
“People could not find enough to eat, everyone was scared, yet my clients believed I could solve their problems. For instance, I had one person who was bedridden with TB and HIV co-infection and who needed my care, there was no way I could abandon her during the lockdown,” says Rosemary. “I had no option but to go out and serve.”
However, Rosemary knew she needed to do everything within her means to protect herself and her family from a possible infection. Her clinic did not have enough PPE. She drew funds from her savings to purchase masks and hand sanitizer to keep the virus at bay.
That situation improved when a partnership between Amref Health Africa and Malteser International with support of the Global Fund provided PPE to community health workers, allowing Rosemary to step up ways of protecting herself from the virus. Since March, the Global Fund has provided more than US$45 million to support Kenya’s response to COVID-19, including training and PPE like gloves and masks to protect community health workers like Rosemary.
Today, as she serves people in her community, she feels more assured. Still, thousands of health workers throughout Kenya lack the equipment they need to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. As COVID-19 spreads across Kenya, the available PPE is barely enough to go around. Rosemary hopes all health workers in the country can have enough PPE, so they do not have to choose between protecting themselves and their families from the virus and doing the work they love.
“We are saving lives, giving hope, and spreading the gospel that TB is curable,” Rosemary says. “It’s an awesome feeling …I feel fulfilled.”
Despite COVID-19 disruptions that have slowed down the fight against TB, Rosemary remains hopeful that she can play a critical role in ending the disease as a public health threat in her community.