Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is José Fernandes. I’m 45 years old and I am from Lisbon [Portugal]. I work in Angola as a Nurse Administrator and Emergency Response Nurse at the International SOS.
How long have you been working as a healthcare worker? What made you choose a career in healthcare? Any fears or regrets?
I started working as a Registered Nurse in 1996, one week after my graduation. Being a nurse was always my first choice. The fascination about how the human body works made me want to know more. Caring for people was the main reason I joined nursing school. Helping people during some of their greatest moments and their last moments of life is something that, after all these years, still gives me chills.
I have no regrets, overall, I’m happy with the choices I’ve made and the way my career is going. My only fear is if something happens to me and I may not be able to provide for my family.
How are you helping fight COVID-19? How has your work changed since COVID-19 broke out?
As an Emergency Response Nurse, I’m 24/7 on call for any emergency that may happen onshore but mainly offshore. I’m part of the emergency response team and I coordinate the medical evacuation, bringing patients to the hospital for proper care. I’m also responsible for escorting the patient, by helicopter, from offshore sites, providing the proper care during transportation, and assuring that the patient arrives at the final destination where appropriate care can be delivered.
The proper maintenance of all advanced life-support equipment and medications are also part of my role as Emergency Response Nurse.
The main change within my role was due to COVID-19 related activities, meaning that some of the procedures had to be re-designed to adapt to this new reality, some had to be created from scratch, and also others have had to be put on hold while the pandemic persists. Procurement activities have also increased exponentially due to the growing need for PPE (personal protective equipment).
Any negative effects due to these changes?
Extended shifts can weigh on a team, not just physically but also mentally. It is imperative that all the support is given to minimize the risk to those involved, and to ensure quality care and the safety of those who seek for our assistance.
What affects you most in this COVID-19 situation? How are you coping and what keeps you going?
Currently, what affects me most is making sure that my family back home is well. Being away and not being able to be physically present to support my family is what concerns me more. Although technology nowadays helps shorten distances and facilitates people connecting with each other, not being able to kiss or hug my wife and children is the most difficult of all in this situation.
But it’s also for them that I do, and love, the work here. Being able to provide for them, to give them a brighter future and to give them opportunities that I never had is what keeps me going.
The help of colleagues, friends and family has been crucial to deal with the separation, without knowing when it will be possible to be together with my family and resume a “normal” life again.
I’ve tried to video call my family and friends as much as possible to help shorten the distance and to bring us together, supporting each other. Nothing will be the same, but the love for my family will come out even stronger.
What strategy, in your view, has worked well in this fight and what has not? What should be done to win the war against COVID-19?
As much as it’s possible to know so far, the lack of investment in health systems around the globe is affecting the response against this pandemic. Lack of human resources and lack of PPE are just a couple of examples how, in general, we are all badly prepared for this kind of exceptional situation.
Testing more and more people is crucial to determine who is and who is not infected, allowing us to isolate people, to provide care for the ones in need and to allocate resources where they are most needed.
Better chains of good and reliable information across nations to help share best practices and what has been working and what doesn’t work are also needed.
Fake news, especially on social media, is not helping people to discern between what is true and reliable from what is not.
Authorities need to improve the channels of communication to help people get proper and reliable information that really makes a difference to people’s lives, helping them return to a more normal life and not creating even more difficulties for all.
The return of the global economy is needed, as countries won’t be able to deal with a lockdown for much longer. Therefore, governments need to make plans for all sectors of society to return to work while giving people the tools they need to perform their jobs safely, without putting themselves and others at unnecessary risk, allowing people to provide for themselves and their families and making things “run” again.
We must not forget that people need to maintain all the recommendations of hand washing, physical distancing when in contact with others, the use of masks and all of the other measures already known by all to avoid not only the spread of the virus, and also to mitigate the emergence of a second wave that will put even more pressure on healthcare systems around the globe.
What is your message to people in your country and those in Africa at this time of COVID-19?
My main message to others is to follow WHO guidelines regarding hand washing, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. I say physical distancing because I don’t like the term “social distancing.” Human beings are social creatures, and now more than ever, when isolation is one of the measures we have to delay the spread of the virus, we need to engage in socializing with others (while maintaining distance) and help those in need of more assistance, especially the elderly and people who have no one to care for them.
Unemployment is a problem that is exponentially growing, so more people will come under great pressure to survive. Therefore, the ones that can should be able to give as much support as possible in order to minimize the risk of having, along with the pandemic crisis, an even bigger economic crisis.