It is necessary to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all women in health care
This article is part of UN Women in BiH campaign “Thank you, heroines”, aimed at raising awareness on numerous contributions of women during COVID-19 response.
About 70% of health workers are women, which makes them more at risk of infection. Medical doctor Ena Humačkić Jukić, who works at the Health centre "Stari Grad" in Mostar, and pharmacist Zdravka Gvožđar, director of pharmacy "Delfin" in Sarajevo, are just two of many women in BiH who were on the front lines of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Ena was engaged at the family medicine clinic as a general practitioner and at the so-called ‘febrile point’, where examinations and tests of all COVID-19 suspected cases were carried out. On the other hand, Zdravka had to completely adapt the work of her pharmacy to the new situation and make sure to procure the most sought-after products – masks, gloves and disinfectants. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought changes to their daily lives. However, the fear for their own health and the health of their loved ones did not prevent them from responding professionally and courageously to all challenges.
"As a young doctor of medicine, with less than three years of work experience, it is not easy to organize my practice and coordinate the work of my team in emergency conditions. Working with people is generally challenging, especially in a situation where the public is largely frightened by unpredictable developments. The most important thing was to manage the situation, not to let it start managing us. We often had to be stronger than we were, in order to persevere in our intention and calling. At all times, we had to be ready and flexible to perform the various tasks required in the new situation. My practice was organized through work in the family medicine clinic and the so-called ‘febrile point’. Each working day would start by putting on protective equipment, from protective suits, goggles and visors, to gloves and masks. Working with such equipment is a great challenge, both physically and mentally,” says Ena.
Zdravka emphasizes that she and her team went through a very difficult period during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we had only a hundred masks at the pharmacy, two to three boxes of gloves and a few bottles of disinfectants. I started looking vigorously for masks, gloves and disinfectants. We worked all day long. Numerous patients came to the pharmacy, and we did not know whether they were infected or not. We wore protective masks and responded professionally to the needs of citizens, and at the end of the working day we would go home with the fear of being infected and that we might transmit the infection to our family members. Also, people are used to coming to our pharmacy for medicine, but also for advice, so we continued to advise them over the phone during the pandemic. We spent hours talking to patients who called us and asked for advice. We also took care of chronic patients, whose current problems are not related to COVID-19. We tried to help them in accordance with the law and the possibilities, all with the goal of reducing the risk of infection," recounts Zdravka.
The biggest challenge for Ena and Zdravka during the COVID-19 pandemic was finding the best way to combine their private and professional lives.
"The initial feeling at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic was the fear of infecting our loved ones. My husband and I are both health workers, we are in constant contact with people, and in our immediate family we have members that belong to the so-called high-risk categories. The thought that you could be the source of the infection for elderly and chronically ill family members is certainly terrifying for everyone. The imposed ‘new normal’ forced us to distance ourselves from them and communicate exclusively over the phone, which greatly affected our mental state, increasing depression and anxiety. Healthcare professionals neglect their private lives and priorities for the benefit of patients and the community almost every day. It is necessary to ensure equal rights and opportunities for all women in health care, starting with safety at work, respect and validation," emphasizes Ena.
"On the one hand, I have the pharmacy, my employees and patients, and on the other, a family. I think women bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic because they needed to respond equally to family and professional challenges. During the crisis caused by the pandemic, I did not see my children or grandchildren. My daughter is in Belgium and cannot come at the moment. My husband is of age and asthmatic. Everyone needed protection and support and it was not easy to harmonize all obligations," adds Zdravka.
Finally, Ena and Zdravka point out that the coronavirus is still present, which is confirmed by the growth of the number of infected people, and that we should all be responsible and adhere to preventive measures.
"I believe that the epidemic will not be under control until a quality, safe and effective vaccine appears. Until then, we all need to adhere to epidemiological measures and recommendations, in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones. My life is largely adapted to the current situation, and in the future I will continue to serve my vocation with all my heart, as I know best,” says Ena.
"The coronavirus is the reality and the situation is getting more complicated. We still have to be careful. I will continue to be at the service of my patients, but also take care of the protection of my own health and the health of my colleagues," concludes Zdravka.
This article is part of the UN Women in BiH campaign “Thank you, heroines”, that is aimed at raising awareness about the numerous contributions of women who are on the frontlines of response to the COVID-19 crisis. Follow UN Women in BiH social media, read stories about some of these amazing women, and thank the women you think are heroines by using the hashtag #ThankYouHeroines. Together let’s support the women who are contributing to a strong COVID-19 response! #HeroinesTellTheirStories