Isaac Wonyima Okello
Please tell us a little bit about yourself
My career started as an enrolled nurse at Koya Health Centre 11 in Abim District, Karamoja. Since then, I have amassed over 18 years of experience in the profession in different capacities ranging from leadership to lecturer. In 2016, I became a monitoring and evaluation focal person for the Karamoja region under the Ministry of Health Regional Monitoring Team. I am currently an assistant district health officer in-charge of maternal, child health/nursing (ADHO/MCHN) in Nwoya District and the national chairperson of ADHO/MCHN of Uganda.
I am an advocate for holistic, quality care for mothers and their children. I am also a researcher and a motivational speaker for aspiring health care workers.
What has been your most memorable moment as a nurse?
The day I saved a police officer’s life. The army commander of the region brought the officer to Koya Health Centre 11 with gunshot wounds. Due to the health facility’s capacity, we could only provide first aid and then refer him to Abim General Hospital for further treatment. At the time, we did not have an ambulance or communication amenities at our facility to call for one. We made a stretcher using bamboo tied with fibers to carry him on our shoulders to the hospital.
As we were leaving, the army commander gave me the injured officer’s gun for self-defense in case we were attacked by Karamojong warriors who laid ambushes everywhere. We walked for over 10 kilometers to the main road where we got a tipper lorry to transport us to the hospital. I was overjoyed that the patient survived. The experience made me think of Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War.
How can the global community better support nurses so that they can deliver quality care and effectively respond to pandemics such as COVID-19?
The global community must put nurses and midwives in positions of leadership and involve them in healthcare delivery decision making processes. More often than not, nurses and midwives are sidelined. In nearly all districts in Uganda, for example, very few nurses are involved in COVID-19 patient care planning. They are on the front lines treating patients but are not represented on task forces. Additionally, positions at the Ministry of Health are only opened to doctors. Nurses and midwives who are qualified are not given the opportunity to compete openly to fill these positions.
Usually, nurses are the first people to come into contact with patients affected by different illnesses, including coronavirus. They should be provided with adequate personal protective equipment and resources such as surgical, medical, and pharmaceutical supplies as needed. This will prevent them from getting infected while on duty and enable them to effectively provide quality care.
Lastly, we need to end the salary discrepancy. The salaries for nurses and midwives should be enhanced and equivalent to other health care professionals in accordance with the salary scale.
It is the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. What do you want people to know about nurses and midwives?
Nurses and midwives are the fulcrum of health service delivery globally. Despite this, they receive very little recognition. For example, during the Ebola outbreak in Gulu between 2000-2001, over 10 nurses and one doctor died of the disease. However, it is only the doctor that is mentioned and recognized. We should acknowledge and celebrate all the unsung heroes and heroines in the medical fraternity.